Football: Shortage of strikers may undermine Scots: Phil Shaw on the attacking shortcomings an opening win in Finland cannot conceal

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The Independent Online
UNLIKE some of his quip- conscious predecessors, Craig Brown prefers a calm, analytical approach to speaking in exclamation marks. But as his reaction to a 2-0 victory over Finland reiterated, the Scotland manager is happy to offer hostages to fortune.

Before a ball was kicked in the European Championship qualifying campaign, Brown promised fresh faces for the second match, against the Faroe Islands at Hampden Park next month. In the immediate aftermath of Helsinki he set a target of 10 points by Christmas, adding yesterday that he would be 'disappointed' if Scotland did not hit the Faroes for six.

On the subject of who was going to score against the better teams in Group Eight, namely Russia and Greece, he conceded that the Scots still have a shortage of strikers. 'Where are they?' he asked.

The answer is that Ally McCoist and Kevin Gallacher are injured, Gordon Durie and Duncan Ferguson are chronically out of form, and Simon Donnelly's display for the Under-21s proved he does not yet possess the physique or know- how to go with his talent.

Which leaves Duncan Shearer, a limited player who underlined his single-mindedness with the breakthrough against the Finns, as Brown's 'first-pick'. The only back- up comes from Eoin Jess, plus Andy Walker and John McGinlay, the former being subdued on Wednesday.

However, at 32 and 30, McGinlay and Shearer can only be short-term options, and Brown admitted he was monitoring the form of Chelsea's uncapped striker, the diminutive John Spencer.

It is symptomatic of the pessimism afflicting Scottish football that such an excellent result should have been followed by more soul-searching. Nevertheless, the list of pluses was substantial. It was topped by one of Paul McStay's most influential showings, including what Brown called 'a world-class pass', hit with spin with the outside of his right foot, in the build-up to the first goal.

The assurance of Tom Boyd and John Collins, who volleyed a sweet second, further reflected Celtic's resurgence. The manager also had lavish praise for Hearts' Alan McLaren, who marked the pounds 5m-rated Ajax striker Jari Litmanen into midfield obscurity.

One down, nine to go. Yet as Brown noted, viewed alongside draws for Italy, Denmark and France in Slovenia, Macedonia and Slovakia respectively, Scottish concern over their vanishing marksmen should not overshadow the reasons to be cheerful.

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