McCoist provides Smith with striking new options

Phil Gordon
Sunday 21 August 2005 00:00
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The backside has broadened a bit since the days when the only extra baggage he carried were prizes. However, some of the magic from the man who won the European Golden Boot in 1992 is finally rubbing off on the present generation of Scotland forwards.

McCoist, now 42, has swapped the comfy ITV chairs for a hard wooden bench. He has become a striking guru under Walter Smith, and is successfully imparting his knowledge if the evidence of Scotland's heartening 2-2 draw against Austria is anything to go by. Kenny Miller scored his first goal since 2003 against Germany, while Garry O'Connor netted his first for his country.

The friendly was designed to give Smith a look at his fringe players ahead of next month's World Cup qualifying Group Five double-header against Italy and Norway. Although Austria hit two late goals, the occasion offered evidence that the Scotland manager may have striking options when the serious business comes around. With Darren Fletcher and James McFadden rested, and Paul Dickov injured, Miller and O'Connor combined sweetly in their 45-minute duet- with Miller racing to the bench to indulge in a high-five celebration with McCoist.

"I ran to Ally when I scored because he has played such a big role when I have had some hard times," explained Miller. The bond between the past and present pleases Smith. "Ally always said that if you miss two chances, you score the third," said the manager. "I was pleased for Kenny because I felt he was unjustly criticised for not scoring in the past. His level of performance typified the attitude that I like, and it is spreading through the team."

McCoist may have been fed on a rich diet of goals with Rangers, but the rations were more meagre with his country, something he impressed upon O'Connor as he sketched out the foraging role that often outweighs the glamour of goals. "Ally sat me down and told that I had to understand how hard it is to play up front for Scotland," said O'Connor. "Now I know what he means. Kenny Miller has had to battle through that, but he was brilliant against Austria."

"The goal is a real lift for me, I hadn't scored for Scotland in a long while," said Miller. "I'm now going into the Italy game with confidence. I simply took my club form into the international, because I felt I have been playing well."

It was only O'Connor's fifth appearance for Scotland. The Hibs striker was given his debut by Berti Vogts at 18 but faded away until Smith handed him another chance last March away to Italy in Milan.

"I came on the Scotland scene too early ," O'Connor acknowledged. "But I hope I am in the team to stay now. I know Paul Dickov would have started if he had been fit, but that is the way football goes. You have to try and take your chance."

Smith, though, knows the real test will be on 3 September, when Italy come to Hampden Park. "No disrespect to Austria, but it will be a step up - but we are making progress. We are hard to beat and we have our pride back."

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