Throughout his improving stewardship of Scotland, Gordon Strachan has made much of picking players not only on the strength of their domestic form but also on their performances in training once they assemble in the national cause.
For this evening’s potentially pivotal Group D encounter against Georgia in Tbilisi he must choose between Steven Fletcher, the man in possession, and Leigh Griffiths, the man in form, to lead Scotland’s attack.
Strachan is an admirer of the qualities Fletcher brings to his side – the Sunderland striker may be struggling to score goals but he has been the Scotland manager’s first choice for five of the six qualifying games.
Unless Griffiths, who has scored eight times this season to Fletcher’s one but has yet to score for his country, has proved a handful in training this week, or his extra pace is thought to carry a greater threat to the home side’s ponderous central defence, then Strachan is likely to stick with Fletcher. Strachan likes Fletcher’s fit, particularly his ability to link with runners from midfield, in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
Strachan told his players the starting line-up before training at the Boris Paichadze Arena. Choosing between Charlie Mulgrew, Gordon Greer and Grant Hanley to partner Russell Martin in central defence, whether Steven Whittaker’s bright start with Norwich earns him a full-back place ahead of Alan Hutton or Andrew Robertson, and who out of West Brom team-mates James Morrison and Darren Fletcher sits alongside Scott Brown in midfield were the main areas chewed over with his assistant Mark McGhee.
“It’s not been easy,” said Strachan of his selection. “I’ve got a lot of players playing well just now. Whoever the team is, there will be a lot of good players on the bench.”
Strachan’s refusal to admit any game so far in the group is a “must win” has become a well-rehearsed theme in the build-up to each fixture and he again refused to accept this fixture falls into that category, although he accepted the reason for growing excitement among Scotland supporters as they seek to reach a first major tournament for 17 years.
“They are getting what we are getting,” said Strachan. “I have had it all the way through my career when approaching good games that I look forward to – there is a nervous excitement. It doesn’t mean we are apprehensive, it doesn’t mean we are scared, it means we are looking forward to it.”
But is this finally the must-win match? “We’ve been asking this question since the first game in Germany and hopefully we’re still asking it up until the last game against Gibraltar,” he said. “If you’re asking that question then we’re still very much alive and kicking.”
In private, though, he must have acknowledged the importance of Scotland winning – rivals Poland, Germany and Ireland have all taken maximum points in Georgia.Reuse content