With barely six weeks to go before the European Championship finals, Scotland face Denmark in a friendly here this evening anxious to establish a credible attacking partnership and to maintain their defensive solidity in the face of enforced changes.
Craig Brown has long hankered after the kind of striking duo formed by Ally McCoist and Mo Johnston during the Andy Roxburgh era. Like a hyperactive card dealer, the Scotland manager has shuffled a pack which has variously included McCoist, Duncan Shearer, Andy Walker, Scott Booth, Duncan Ferguson, Eoin Jess, Darren Jackson and John McGinlay. In the Parken Stadium, the onus will be on John Spencer and Kevin Gallacher to prove that they are a winning hand.
Brown's search for a forward with pace who can play through the middle off the last defender has belatedly led him back to Gallacher, who has spent much of the season on the treatment table or the substitutes' bench after twice breaking a leg with Blackburn. As a winger in a previous incarnation with Dundee United and Coventry, Gallacher also offers Scotland the option of width.
The diminutive Spencer is likely to play slightly deeper, in the role he reluctantly fills for Chelsea. He has yet to score in six appearances for Scotland, whereas Gallacher boasts just two goals in the course of 20 caps spread over eight years. The only time they have been on the pitch together was the second half of last month's 1-0 victory over Australia, but with Ferguson out of the tournament and Booth doubtful, it is a case of needs must.
During a 10-match qualifying campaign in which they conceded only three goals, Scotland developed a redoubtable three-man defensive unit in front of Jim Leighton. Now, injuries to Alan McLaren (knee) and Colin Calderwood (medial ligament) have disrupted their plans, with the Rangers player in particular facing a race against time to make the finals.
Should the Scots elect to persevere with wing-backs and three defenders against the Danes, the likelihood is that Colin Hendry will be joined by Tom Boyd and Stewart McKimmie, the latter possibly operating as sweeper. Alternatively, if he judges that the European champions might go for three attackers, Brown may favour a conventional 4-4-2 formation.
"We've got to be adaptable," he said. "Playing three defenders has served us well, but Denmark are as near to the Netherlands as we'll get, and when we play the Dutch in the finals they'll have three up. You can't comfortably play a three-man defence against that."
While Brown is committed to giving half a game each to Leighton and Andy Goram, thus reflecting another area of uncertainty, Peter Schmeichel is expected to keep goal for a near-full strength Denmark side. The Laudrup brothers, the Japan-bound Michael, and Brian of Rangers, are in line to win their 87th and 62nd caps respectively.
The Scottish management remain unimpressed by suggestions that the Danes are weaker than when they won the trophy in 1992. Brown pointed out that Michael Laudrup missed their "wild card" triumph because of a feud with the coach, Richard Moller Nilsen, and believes they could do well in England.
"The Laudrups will be catered for," he said, as if arranging an underworld contract. "We're relishing the challenge - it'll be a rehearsal for how to play against excellence tucked in off the front players."
SCOTLAND: Leighton (Hibernian); McKimmie (Aberdeen), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd, McKinlay (both Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), McCall (Rangers), McAllister (Leeds), Collins (Celtic); Spencer (Chelsea), Gallacher (Blackburn).Reuse content