Shaun Maloney should be playing in the top flight, Marshall tells Moira Gordon
THERE is a belief that verges on a certainty in the Scotland camp these days and it is a conviction that they will ultimately break down the opposition and score.
The evidence of the past year suggests that confidence is based on something more substantial than positive thinking, with Gordon Strachan’s men drawing a blank in only three of his 16 games in charge and only one of their past ten.
That is the basis on which they approach each match, according to goalkeeper David Marshall, and it reminds the defence that if they fulfil their side of the bargain then the chances are good that a victory could be in the offing, especially when they enjoy home advantage.
“We know now that if we keep a clean sheet at the back, this team has the quality to score at the other end with the likes of Fletch [Steven Fletcher] and Naisy [Steven Naismith] up front, who are playing well in the Premier League,” said the Cardiff City keeper, pictured right. “You also know what you get from Shaun [Maloney]. As well as that there’s Ikechi Anya’s pace – so we’ve always got goals in us at home. It’s something the gaffer works on, keeping clean sheets and taking advantage of set-plays at the other end. That was a huge clean sheet on Friday night and a massive win.”
It offered Maloney, 31, the platform to score the winner, which reeled in the Republic of Ireland and prevented Poland from extending their gap over the Scots in the race to qualify for Euro 2016. It took the team until the 75th minute to finally make one of their chances count, but the feeling in the side was that the breakthrough would come, especially with the likes of the Wigan Athletic forward on the field.
“Shaun has been brilliant for us. He’s had some big moments already in this campaign – his winner against Georgia and his goal in Poland,” said the man he rooms with while on international duty. “You trust him to produce when it matters and he did it again on Friday night.”
The set-piece was one contrived by coach Stuart McCall but perfectly executed by Anya, Scott Brown and Maloney, with the latter curling an exquisite finish beyond the helpless Irish goalie David Forde. “I knew as soon as he hit it was in. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of them, for a few years now!” said Marshall, who was at Celtic with the wee winger and has had to pick those strikes out the net in training.
“Technically Shaun is very good. You know you’re going to get good set-plays and deliveries from him. I’m delighted for him because I know how hard he works. We have a great relationship. We both started our careers at Celtic and we were back on Friday keeping a clean sheet and scoring the winning goal.”
The surprise for Marshall was not the finish but the fact that a player of that calibre is not plying his trade at a higher level. Having proved he could score those kind of goals against the likes of Manchester United – as he did a couple of seasons ago – Marshall believes Maloney should be elevated to the top league once again.
“I think Shaun is at his peak just now. He’s been in the Premier League and won the FA Cup with Wigan. Stepping down can be difficult because he has that quality. But he’s put in some good performances already this season and scored some big goals. He’s had a great career but in my head, he should be playing in the Premier League – but the gaffer at Scotland has a lot of trust in him and that’s why you get performances like that.”
The match against England at Celtic Park on Tuesday is another opportunity for Maloney and Co to shine. A “friendly” match hardly worthy of the moniker – “As soon as it starts, it’s not a friendly is it?” asks Marshall, rhetorically – the prize is pride rather than points, as well as a modicum of revenge for the 3-2 defeat last year. “We want to beat the English just as much as the Irish. The experience we had at Wembley last August was great. The result was disappointing but it was a brilliant occasion. The main thing was we got the three points against Ireland but Scotland v England? Everybody is desperate to win that one.”
Defensive frailties were exposed at Wembley last year but Friday’s clean sheet shows what can be achieved. It offers encouragement for Tuesday and also for the hopes of qualifying for a major championships for the first time since 1998.
“The celebrations were measured because we’re only four games in. But deep down we knew it would be a big win if we could do it against Ireland. There was a lot of pressure on us and we delivered. I wouldn’t say it was a must-win because we have other big games but we knew if we could win it, it would give us a great chance in the group. It’s been disappointing that no-one really around us in the group has dropped that many points so far. That’s why the home games are so vital for us. But hopefully we’ll be even stronger when we go to Dublin in June. We have Gibraltar before that which we’ll be under pressure to win well. If we get the job done there, the pressure we felt on Friday will be transferred to the Irish in Dublin.”