McGinlay holds the key to Estonian fortress

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The Independent Online
To say that John McGinlay was not involved in Scotland's tantalising failure at Euro 96 would not be strictly true, for he donned a tartan scarf and sang himself sore at all three games. Tonight, however, he will live out every fellow supporters' fantasy, spearheading the attack in the World Cup qualifier against Estonia, writes Phil Shaw from Tallinn.

McGinlay gained the last of his nine caps in Sweden a year ago, only for the goals to dry up during Bolton's vain struggle for Premiership survival. Gordon Durie hit a scoring streak to take his place in the squad for the European finals, but the 32-year-old from Fort William is back in favour for the match in the Kadriorg Stadium.

Craig Brown, who called up McGinlay only after Kevin Gallacher dropped out of the Baltic trip last Thursday, is now looking to him as the specialist finisher to unlock Estonia's ultra-defensive formation. The Bolton forward - five goals this season and three for his country - is preferred to Dougie Freedman on the grounds of experience.

Billy Dodds, the Premier Division's top scorer with 14 goals, starts an international for the first time, with Darren Jackson either completing a three-man strikeforce or playing off the front. Midfield, where Brown has lost Gary McAllister (suspended) and rates Stuart McCall (hamstring) as "only 50-50", is less easy to call.

John Collins, captain for the first time, is likely to be joined at the creative hub by Craig Burley, with Jackie McNamara replacing the latter at wing-back. If the Scots do not risk McCall, who has a Champions' League match for Rangers against Ajax next week, the remaining place lies between Paul Lambert, Scot Gemmill and Billy McKinlay.

Estonia regularly pull eight players back behind the ball, leaving a solitary nominal striker. In the circumstances, Brown will probably use just two out-and-out defenders, with Derek Whyte set to step down.

Scotland have lost only two of the 16 competitive away fixtures during Brown's three years as manager, in Greece and England, both of which turned on penalties. So the return to Estonia, where they won 3-0 in one of Andy Roxburgh's last matches, should not be unduly daunting even to a makeshift side. Brown, conscious that Sweden's optimum points total is 30 compared with the Scots' 28, promises a "very offensive" approach.

His players must not interpret those words too literally in view of the fate which befell McAllister, whose second caution in successive Group Four matches was for the mildest dissent in Latvia. Given the choice, Brown would have opted to be without his playmaker in Tallinn rather than for Sweden's visit to Glasgow next month, but he will be anxious that Collins, also booked in Riga, does not provoke another yellow card.

"I am always disappointed when any player gets his name taken," Brown said. "But I never criticise officials because you never know when you might get them again."

Scotland's other concern, apart from meeting Estonia on the back of their first win in 22 competitive games, 1-0 against Belarus, is the standard of the floodlighting at a venue better suited to the Highland League than the World Cup. The Luxembourg delegate from the sport's world governing body, Fifa, was sufficiently unimpressed to raise the matter, whereupon he was assured that bulbs of the requisite wattage were on their way from Finland.

But Brown, aware that the game will not finish until 8.30pm local time, had his fears confirmed by a light-meter reading after yesterday's Under- 21 match and made it clear that Scotland will play under protest. All the same, their qualifying prospects ought to be illuminated by three more points.

SCOTLAND (v Estonia, World Cup qualifying Group Four, Tallinn, today, probable, 2-5-1-2): Goram (Rangers); Calderwood (Tottenham), Boyd (Celtic); McNamara (Celtic), Burley (Chelsea), Collins (Monaco), Lambert (Borussia Dortmund), T McKinlay (Celtic); Jackson (Hibernian); J McGinlay (Bolton), Dodds (Aberdeen).