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Andy’s Angle – Are We To Accept Mediocracy?

September 8, 2015

Sonstrust board member Andy Galloway gives his thoughts on Scotland’s recent two international matches and attempts to offer a solution to current flaws.

RULE number one of Scottish football. Always do things the hard way.

However good a position you’ve put yourself in to begin with, just make it that bit more difficult.

Now first things first. The patient still has a pulse. Scotland’s participation in Euro 2016 for now rests on two games, one of which will be won, the other can definitely be won.

Here’s the thing, though. This is a campaign where, until 4.59pm on Friday, everything was going fine. Nobody could pick any big faults with the results we’d got.

Then, in Tbilisi, we made it difficult for ourselves again. And last night, the safety net of an unlikely victory over Germany wasn’t there.

Elements of the game against the world champions were positive. Certainly an improvement on THAT against Georgia.

But to get any sort of result against a side defending football’s greatest honour, everything has to be perfect. And there were flaws.

We’re at risk of sitting at home next summer and watching ALL of the other Home Nations at a major finals.

Despite Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Alloa, Dumbarton have another 31 opportunities to pick up league points. Plenty of scope to bounce back.

Scotland don’t. In their arena, it has to be right first time. And time after time, in games which really matter, it hasn’t.

All we can do for the next month is wait, keep the faith, and get ready for the biggest game since Italy 2007 when Poland come to Hampden.  But play-offs or not, there is still so much for Scottish football to address if we are to be restored to the team we once were.

Somebody asked me on Saturday if Gordon Strachan should be removed as manager. Regardless of the outcome of this campaign, the answer is a definite no. Whether he’ll want to stay is another matter.  George Burley and Craig Levein were each a disaster as manager and didn’t deserve a day more in the post than they got. However, the problems do run deeper than who is in charge of the team.

We have a manager with a track record of getting results with limited resources. However, there is more to consider than that.

What’s available?

Sunday, August 16 – the day after Dumbarton beat St Mirren – was the 20th anniversary of my first-ever visit to Hampden.

The Scotland team I saw defeat Greece 1-0 started: Jim Leighton; Stewart McKimmie, Colin Calderwood, Tom Boyd, Tosh McKinlay; John Collins, Gary McAllister, Craig Burley, Stuart McCall; Darren Jackson and Duncan Shearer.

The playing substitutes were John Robertson and Ally McCoist.

Watching from the West Stand at Hampden last night, it occurred to me: How many of last night’s team would make it into that side, in the same positions?

You’d like to think there was room in there for the likes of Scott Brown. But who do you take out of midfield to accommodate him? At a push, you could take one of the strikers out and move McAllister upfront. But if you’re keeping everybody in the same position, it’s questionable.

And while we have three fine goalkeepers to select from at the moment, remember that Leighton was keeping Andy Goram out of the team.

That, by the way, is not to say that Scotland have a bad side right now. We have some very decent players available. But at the moment, they’re not qualifying for tournaments. That side reached Euro 96.

Two other things stand out about that team from the Greece game. Of the 13 players who got on the pitch, 10 were playing their club football in Scotland. Only Calderwood, McAllister and Burley weren’t – Collins didn’t join Monaco for another year.

What’s more, of those 10, only five played for the Old Firm. Leighton, Jackson and Robertson played their club football in Edinburgh while McKimmie and Shearer were supplied by an Aberdeen side that had only survived relegation three months earlier via a play-off.

Back then, we had a thriving top division. Rangers and Celtic were still winning most of the trophies but were losing a lot more games and being pushed by more than just each other. Now we have a league which is a parody of itself. They say that the domestic league shouldn’t impact on the national team. What’s happened since the SPL’s inception in 1998 suggests otherwise.

The other standout point highlights an area of the pitch which is a glaring deficiency for Scotland right now. And has been for some time. Strikers.

mccoist

“The playing substitutes were John Robertson and Ally McCoist.”

How incredible does it seem that you could type that sentence? Two players who won Scotland’s golden boot couldn’t even get a start for the national team?

As well as them, plus Shearer and Jackson, who started the Greece game, we had the likes of Scott Booth and Billy Dodds available to us.

Now? The man who has worn the number nine shirt in recent matches has scored 10 goals in nearly two years. Three of them against Gibraltar.

Why has Steven Fletcher kept his place upfront? Because there isn’t really that much else to pick from, and strikers whose game is all about scoring goals, for some reason, aren’t in favour in Scotland right now.

Take the Gibraltar game away and only one Scotland goal – Steven Naismith’s in Poland – has been scored by a striker in this group.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not crucial who puts the ball in the net as long as it does end up there. But it genuinely would be nice to have a player who, when things aren’t going your way, can always be relied on for a goal.

Other countries have them. England’s goal record for one player has just been equalled and could quite easily be beaten tonight. Wales and Germany have regular goalscorers who aren’t even out-and-out strikers.

Goalscorers aren’t the sort of players we make a habit of producing in this country. Strikers who hold the ball up and run about are our speciality. We’ve got them coming out of our ears.

But how about somebody who can just put the ball in the net? Like McCoist?

Goalwise, Leigh Griffiths has made a positive start to this season, but hasn’t exactly been a favourite with Scotland over the last two games, playing only 15 minutes in Georgia.

Kris Boyd, of course, would not get in the Scotland squad now. However, back in the day when he was scoring goals for fun, he was hung out to dry by many parties, including the then Scotland manager, for his style of play.

If you are a McCoist-type player, what incentive does that give you to push on? Are you the sort that we want any more?

Stop accepting mediocrity.

Said it before, many times, in Sons View. The acceptance of mediocrity will only lead to us going in the same direction.

This campaign isn’t over yet. It’s important to bear that in mind and right from the start, the home game with Poland has justly been viewed as winnable.

However, after the positive start we made, the position we’re in should be much better. It isn’t because we haven’t learned from previous mistakes.

Euro 2008 fell through because we lost in Georgia. We fell short qualifying for World Cup 2010 because from the crucial games, against Norway and Macedonia, we won one out of four and scored two goals, in the same match. Euro 2012 was missed out on after failing to beat the Czech Republic home or away, or win in Lithuania.

Then World Cup 2014. One win out of six against the team seeded right above us and the two seeded below. Defeats home and away against the bottom seeds.

tartan army

And perish the thought for now, but if we’re sitting at home during Euro 2016, it’ll be because we lost in Georgia. We’ve come full circle.

The thing about Friday night was the “It’s just typical Scotland” reactions that followed. Call me old fashioned, but we were away to the side ranked 147th in the world, who have lost at home to all three of the sides we are supposed to be rivalling to qualify. A draw at the absolute minimum shouldn’t really be a problem.

Let alone getting a single shot on target in that game.

After most of those matches listed above, the dust has taken some time to settle and then it’s been: “Ah well, at least everybody had a good night out.”

We need to have higher standards for these sort of games. Until it’s more about the football, and less about who’s singing Flower of Scotland or whether Des Clarke is conducting the half time entertainment, we won’t get anywhere.

So what happens now?

As at the start of this article, there’s not much we can do until Thursday, October 8.

That will be a day when Scotland needs the nation on its side, and focusing on the football more than anything.

But even if we are in France next summer, there is so much to address in the long term. It won’t be entirely the same squad trying to get us to Russia 2018. Some of the current players are in their 30s now and international retirement may be a possibility.

What’s coming through to replace them? That is an issue for the clubs and the governing bodies. Especially when it comes to players who put the ball in the net and can win games that they need to be winning – like Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia in the next campaign. Maybe even England, at Hampden anyway.

However, immediately, let’s just hope that we beat Poland and give ourselves a chance.

This glorious failure tag has been with us just a bit too long.

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