Monday, March 27, 2017

Talking Points from Hampden

Chris Martin deserves his moment of glory...
I was at the Georgia game in 2007 when Craig Beattie, erstwhile of Celtic, shinned in a late winner that kept us in the Euro 2008 qualification race.  Chris Martin is a rather less unlikely hero, but any player booed before he's actually stepped foot on the pitch could be forgiven for either letting their head go down or just thinking "to hell with this."

Instead Martin ignored it, knuckled down and got his reward.  You could see what his goal meant to him.  This is not a guy who wishes he hadn't signed up for international football; he's determined to be a success in a Scotland jersey.  The next time he's about to come on as a sub, I imagine his reception will be rather more positive.

The booing was not classy, and also pretty stupid - when does booing one of your own players ever do any good?  But some of it was definitely based on the frustration that a nil-nil seemed certain, and also on the fact that Martin's previous performances for Scotland have been pretty dreadful.  He is in fact our most on-form striker at this time - eleven goals at club level this season - but most of us don't watch the Championship.

Anyway, he's shut the doubters up.  And I imagine said doubters couldn't be more delighted.

...But Griffiths is the answer up front
Comparisons to Chris Iwelumo were harsh, but Griffiths' volley off the bar does belong in the 'sitter' category.  It was a measure of the man that instead of dwelling on it he hit the post with a far harder chance a minute later.  Helped by getting decent service from his club teammates, Griffiths was a constant danger until Jan Oblak tried some unwelcome chiropractic on the striker with his knee and without his movement Scotland looked rather lost after the break.

It would have been interesting to see how effective Jordan Rhodes might have been had he been brought on, but Strachan will have learned what most of us suspected; that Steven Naismith, as clever and dedicated as he is, is no longer capable of operating as a lone striker.  Griffiths, fitness-permitting, must surely have pencilled himself into the centre-forward role for the forseeable future.

Celtic spine was the right decision
Picking six Celtic players was a sensible move; they play together every week, and they're used to winning.  With such familiarity, it can't be a coincidence that Scotland looked far more assured and certain of what they were doing for the first time in aeons.  Of course it helped that the Bhoys played well - even James Forrest did his job (puts on tin hat), stretching play on the right in the first half and then making some clever moves inside to create space for Kieran Tierney to rampage into after the break.

Stuart Armstrong justifiably got the plaudits for an outstanding debut - and he still has plenty of potential to improve further - but bear in mind that Tierney is a teenager asked to play in an unfamiliar position.  Slightly exposed early on, he got better as the match progressed and easily justified his selection in that role.  More than a few scouts will have been impressed with his versatility and attitude.  And, given our complete dearth of right-backs, Tierney may win an awful lot of caps in that position if Andrew Robertson continues to shine.

Kudos to Strachan
We're not slow to slag Gordon Strachan off when he's messed up, so it's only fair that he gets some kudos.  Whilst the second half performance wasn't great, the number of chances created in the first forty-five was so great that, had they been spread over ninety minutes, we'd have been impressed.  The gameplan was spot on and the loss of Griffiths was understandably difficult to adapt to.

Reading between the lines of his post-match interview, Strachan was clearly aware that his tenure would have been over but for Martin's goal.  "I was calm enough, thinking 'what will be, will be'.  Unlike on many other occasions in the last two years, this was not a night where the manager could have done more.

It's probably secured him in the job until October at least; whilst changing manager could be justified after the England game (and maybe before), it's hard to see a defeat to the Auld Enemy in June doing for him, and we may as well stand by him until the Autumn games that will decide the group.

It's the hope that kills you
We're actually still in this.  Second place is 'only' two points away.  To get that playoff place, we just need to beat Slovakia at home.  And not lose in Slovenia.  And win in Lithuania.  Oh, and beat Malta too (that should be a given, but this is Scotland we're talking about).  Easy as that.  Yeah.

Goodness me, I should know better by now...

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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