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Andy Galloway Reviews Scotland’s Recent ‘Bad Luck’

October 10, 2015

LOOK at it this way. There can’t be many more ways to mess up a qualification campaign. We’ve surely used them all now, writes Andy Galloway.

Scotland are the laughing stock of British football. Again. But the joke gets better this time if you’re English, Welsh or Northern Irish. Usually it’s just England who we have to sit at home and watch taking part in the finals of a major competition. Next summer, they’ll ALL be there. We won’t be. There’ll be the ‘They Think It’s All Over’ style jokes about repeats of Hamish MacBeth etc while Euro 2016 is being broadcast. And who, in all honesty, could blame anybody who cracked them?

Forget putting this down as “another glorious failure”, a phrase readily trotted out within minutes of the final whistle. For one, why do we continue to accept it? Why are we always laughing this sort of thing off and saying it’s typical of us? And this time, we’ve done it from a position which played right into our hands at the halfway stage. For us to not even make the play-offs, with a game to spare, from that position, is a disgrace.

That fate was secured, as ever, in real style. While it would be true to say that Georgia was the game where our fortune was dictated, there were enough head-in-hands moments in last night’s match against Poland. The first half – talk about one goal papering over the cracks. The opening 44 minutes beggared belief. No urgency upfront, caught out with offside time and time again at the back, and it really should not be possible for international players to make as many mistakes as the full backs did. And as for starting the game by letting Robert Lewandowski have a clear run at goal – wow. Why didn’t anybody else think of that? It’s not as if he’s given any evidence of his goalscoring ability recently.

Then THAT. One swing of Matt Ritchie’s boot – not entirely unpredictable after his goal for Bournemouth against Sunderland last month – had us all positive again. As if that wasn’t enough, he then set up Steven Fletcher and we were a win in Gibraltar away from the play-offs. All was great.

And then Shane Long. And then Lewandowski again. The end.

Since beating the Republic of Ireland at Parkhead, what have we produced in this group that suggests we deserve to qualify? Six goals against part-time Gibraltar? Whoopee, that’s hall of fame material. Never mind that we threw the equaliser in for them within a minute of taking the lead. A draw in Dublin was a decent result. THAT in Georgia – evidence that we don’t do learning from our mistakes. Germany at home – the world champions, but did the Republic of Ireland have fear about playing them last night? Obviously not.

We’ve got what we deserve out of this campaign. Nothing at all except remembrance as the team who blew it.

No doubt the World Cup 2018 qualifying group will start with the usual divide among the Scottish football public. The nay-sayers will still be telling you we won’t qualify, coming up with every reason under the sun why, and say they’re only being realistic. The glass half full brigade will be optimistic that it’s finally the campaign when those words are rammed down the throats they came from.

Unfortunately, a major overhaul is needed. Scotland, as it stands, will make no impression on their group unless there is a clear-out and the acceptance of failure (referred to numerous times in Sons View and on this website) stops. Is the time there to make these improvements? Absolutely. Will they happen? Let’s be kind and say “who knows”.

Sunday’s game in Gibraltar may be the last for some players in a Scotland jersey. The modal age of retirement from international football is somewhere in the early to mid-30s. Some players carry on for their country longer than that, others call it a day before. But when the milestone birthday has passed, some may wonder whether the next international campaign will be their last. And for Scotland, there are many to whom that could apply right now.

All three goalkeepers are in their 30s, as are both of last night’s full backs, Alan Hutton and Steven Whittaker. Darren Fletcher, Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney too, along with fringe players Christophe Berra and Gordon Greer. What’s more, by the time the World Cup campaign kicks off, Russell Martin, James Morrison and Steven Naismith will all have reached the big three-nil as well.

It’s not exactly a young squad, is it? In most cases, it would be nice to think that these players will carry on (no genuinely, it would – the team isn’t THAT bad), but that’s a decision that ultimately they have to make. And if they do, what’s coming through to replace them?

Of those players, keepers Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor seem most likely to call it a day at international level, along with Fletcher. In the goalies’ case, it’s simply the fact that they’ll be 33 and 34 respectively within the coming months, and with David Marshall first choice in this campaign, their chances will be limited. Fletcher has given it his best during more than 10 years’ service for Scotland, but has he been the same player since the illness which handed him a long lay-off from football? He might give it one last campaign, if selected, but it’s a big ask.

tartan army

While this correspondent is not one for naming individual players in a negative way – it is a team game after all – Hutton and Whittaker may wish to consider their futures as well. The full back role is a position for players who can run up and down the wings for 90 minutes. It arguably demands more in terms of stamina than any position on the field. We might be able to have one ageing player in that position. But one on each flank? Nope. Not in this day and age, where pace is requisite number one for playing out wide.

At the absolute least, those players, and others, should have stronger competition for their places than they have right now. Had Hutton picked up a training ground injury ahead of last night’s game, who would have played right back? There really was nobody else. Callum Paterson at Hearts is one player who could be the next to fill that position. Maybe also Paul McGinn. They are raw, but there has to come a time when other options are being considered for places.

The same can be said about the likes of Andrew Robertson (what must he have been thinking sitting on the bench all last night?) and Graeme Shinnie at left back. Further up the pitch, you’ve got Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths and Gary Mackay-Steven at Celtic, along with Ryan Gauld at Sporting Lisbon. None of these players are that old and should be part of Scotland’s team for years to come.

The thing is – now is the time to be getting these guys involved. In some cases, they should have been involved years ago. Remember when Wayne Rooney was breaking through at Everton and there was a clamour for him to be in England’s senior team straight away? He was, and hasn’t done too badly since.

There’s one thing all these guys need, though. Game time with their clubs – and ultimately, that’s down to their week to week employers. Many of those guys are playing most Saturdays and hopefully they’ll continue to hold down regular places, there or at a higher level elsewhere. The concern, though, is with the ones who are heading south – how certain are they of getting a game?

And no, the Scottish Premiership is not a great league to be playing regular football in, nor is it going to be where most of Scotland’s players come from. But with the ageing squad and the way this campaign has collapsed, can we really do worse than give friendly games to the likes of Shinnie, Paterson, Griffiths etc over the next year before the World Cup campaign starts? Especially Griffiths. This isn’t the time to repeat that we’ve got precious little upfront – not after Steven Fletcher’s finish for last night’s second goal. But boy, is that still a problem position. Come to think of it, most of them are.

To finish, there is one other individual whose future should be under scrutiny. Stewart Regan has been in charge of the SFA, the ‘guardians’ of our game, for five years now. Three campaigns have passed in that time, all ending in their own unique brand of failure. Has there been anything meaningful done by the guru of Scottish football in that time to arrest the form of the national team? Barring the way overdue sacking of Craig Levein, has there ever been any sort of message sent out that results have been unacceptable? What about one that clubs need to be doing more to develop homegrown talent? No?

Enjoy watching Euro 2016 from the posh seats Stewart. Spare a thought for the fans who are watching from home again. In fact, if you bump into Rod Stewart while you’re there, why don’t you see if he’s available to sing Flower of Scotland at the home games in the next campaign?

Because that’s the priority for home games, isn’t it, along with a nice bit of fan karaoke before the game? Not a winning team, performing to the level it should be, or anything like that. At least it seems that way.

Not a winning team, performing to the level it should be, or anything like that. At least it seems that way

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