Lithuania show up Scotland's lack of preparation
Lithuania came to Hampden with a plan. Sure, it was a depressing plan to park the bus, frustrate Scotland and maybe nick a goal on the break, but they executed it really well and were good value for their clean sheet right up till James McArthur's shoulder saved the home side from total humiliation.
In contrast, Scotland went with exactly the same lineup who started in Malta, with the only change a positional swap between Oliver Burke and Robert Snodgrass. This seemed like a nod to the old adage 'don't change a winning team' rather than a tactical decision, as there was no apparent strategy prepared for the opponent. The clearest indicator of this was Andrew Robertson's performance; the left-back was our outstanding player and wreaked havoc in the second half when given licence to bomb forward. Yet he was far more conservative in the opening period despite having next-to-no defensive responsibility - clearly the likelihood of this hadn't been identified beforehand. With a month between games to prepare (and plenty of time before that to scout), Gordon Strachan basically picked what he considered his best eleven and trusted in them to get the job done without much input from him. That's at best risky, and at worst negligent from an international manager.
Picking Chris Martin was stubborn and stupid
Look up 'stubborn' in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of Strachan. That's been the case for his whole career, but his attitude towards the press this week was particularly rude and condescending. The subject of who to play at centre-forward has been a particularly tetchy one. Chris Martin hasn't scored in his last twenty club matches, yet was preferred to Steven Fletcher (three goals in his last six games for Sheffield Wednesday) and Leigh Griffiths, who has scored for fun for the last 18 months...against teams who tend to pack their defence.
Strachan's post-match claim that Martin was "outstanding" left everyone open-mouthed. The striker wasn't hopeless - he did well to come so close to scoring with the two difficult chances he had - but his link-up play was poor (as it was against Malta) and he was only slightly more mobile than a wheelie-bin. The world and his dog knows that he had no right to start this match, and Strachan only picked him out of sheer bloody-mindedness, because starting with Fletcher or Griffiths would have been an admission that the media and fans were right.
Midfield blues exacerbated by Fletcher injury
Darren Fletcher's departure at half-time with a thigh strain was a big blow, more so than I think folk realized at the time. The skipper still has plenty of energy even at 32, and could be seen gesticulating at his teammates - particularly the centre-backs - to up the tempo. James McArthur is a more than adequate replacement, but there was a complete lack of leadership after Fletcher went off.
The other central midfielder, Barry Bannan, was completely ineffectual. His performance was reminiscent of Wayne Rooney in a deep-lying role for England; always keen to get on the ball, a few Hollywood passes to either wing, and ultimately very little impact on the match. Like Chris Martin, Bannan is another Strachan favourite who hasn't done nearly enough for club or country to justify such faith.
Burke is being set up to fail
Oliver Burke showed only some fleeting glimpses of his enormous potential, but his willingness to get on the ball and run at defenders was welcoming and he got more joy on the right flank as the first half went on...only for Strachan to then switch him to the other side just before the break and then sub him early in the second half. Burke had barely touched the ball after half-time, but he was getting no service. In hindsight, sticking him in the centre, where his physical presence and running could have offered a foil to Martin, would have been wiser. It would also have allowed Robert Snodgrass into his favoured wide position where he could have had more time and space to operate.
Strachan seemed to think James Forrest was a like-for-like replacement just because of his seering pace, but Forrest is always better on the counter-attack with space to run into and isn't a great crosser of the ball; he missed one very good opportunity and offered zilch otherwise.
Are we out already?
To have a shot at second place, we always had to win this game, whatever guff the manager came out with beforehand. The situation can be rectified with a win in Bratislava, but how confident would you be of that? Defeat finishes us off, and it should be the end of Strachan. But in truth the boss feels like a lame duck already.
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.