Football: Brown fast running out of front-line options

Latvia lie in wait for the Scots tonight. Phil Shaw reports from Riga

Scotland could be forgiven for suspecting that their Baltic mini- tour, which takes in a World Cup qualifying match against Latvia here tonight before concluding in Estonia on Wednesday, was fated from the start.

Before they flew out from Glasgow yesterday, Coventry's Eoin Jess was given compassionate leave to miss the two matches, after the death of his father earlier in the morning. Then, upon landing in Riga, the Scots found that the terminal was closed because of a fire caused by sparks from faulty welding equipment barely an hour earlier.

These latest misfortunes followed the spate of withdrawals which deprived Craig Brown of his three first-choice strikers, Ally McCoist, Duncan Ferguson and Gordon Durie, and of Colin Hendry, his vice-captain and defensive linchpin.

On the positive side, the Scottish party avoided the clouds of black smoke which engulfed the airport's baggage-reclaim area. Eschewing the bureaucratic wrangling which once characterised Eastern Bloc countries, the Latvians improvised by allowing them to collect their luggage literally off the back of a lorry. What little time the players spent waiting around was endured in warm sunshine.

Brown promptly whisked his squad away for training in the 13,500-capacity Daugava Stadium, where Scotland hope to build on last month's encouraging draw in Austria in their opening Group Four match.

Even allowing for Latvia's relative inexperience at international level - this will be their 45th fixture in the five years since secession from the Soviet Union - it promises to be anything but a formality.

Latvia have already established themselves as a cut above other "new" countries, such as Lithuania, Armenia and Azerbaijan, with whom they tend to be bracketed. They defeated Austria and Northern Ireland - in Belfast - during the last World Cup qualifying campaign, and have drawn with Denmark and Spain. Skonto Riga also put Aberdeen out of Europe two years ago, and players in the national team know that a good performance could clinch a move abroad.

Only three of Latvia's probable line-up this evening earn their corn outside the country. Vitas Rimkus, a striker with Nuremberg, poses the greatest threat to Andy Goram's goal. Rimkus has scored six times in his last 10 internationals, including the goal in a 2-1 home defeat by Sweden a month ago when Brown was among the spectators.

The Scotland manager reckons to know Latvia's personnel and system "inside out". He detected a weakness at set-pieces, citing an "horrendous error" by their keeper as having cost them a deserved draw against the Swedes, and believes they will play a more open game than Estonia.

Unlike his Welsh counterpart, Bobby Gould, Brown refused to reveal his team. He argued that Latvia's coach, Janis Gilis, was a "shrewd operator" who would make the appropriate adjustments to his beanpole defence were he to learn that Scotland planned to field two diminutive front players.

In fact, Ferguson's absence means that Brown has no tall strikers anyway. He may well start with a fresh partnership of the uncapped Billy Dodds (14 goals for Aberdeen this season) and Darren Jackson (without a goal after 12 caps). John Spencer might appear a more obvious choice, but he has never scored for Scotland either and the lack of regular action for Chelsea could count against him.

Brown spoke of "keeping changes to a minimum," which should mean Derek Whyte coming in as a straight replacement for Hendry rather than Craig Burley switching to central defence and Jackie McNamara slotting into his position.

In the circumstances, Scotland will be heavily dependent on the experienced trio of Gary McAllister, John Collins and Stuart McCall, with midfield looking as likely a source of a goal as any in a Scotland side which has almost forgotten how to score.

They have found the net in only four of the 10 matches played over the past 12 months, against San Marino (five times), Australia, the United States and Switzerland (once each). Any goal would therefore be welcomed tonight, all the more so if it earned a point or more, although the pragmatist in Brown would no doubt settle for a goalless draw followed by a 1-0 win in Tallinn next week.

"I'd rather not contemplate defeat," he said before spelling out the serious implications of such an outcome for Scotland's qualifying prospects. "But if we were to lose here then we'd probably need to beat Sweden at home and away, given that they've already won in Latvia."

SCOTLAND (probable): Goram (Rangers); Calderwood (Spurs), Whyte (Middlesbrough), Boyd (Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), McCall (Rangers), G McAllister (Coventry), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic); Dodds (Aberdeen), D Jackson (Hibernian).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches