Gordon Strachan has claimed Celtic’s “sensational” achievement of going a domestic season unbeaten will bolster Scotland’s chances of upsetting England next month.
The Scotland manager named a 29-man squad for the vital World Cup qualifier a fortnight on Saturday.
While there was no room for Callum McGregor, the in-form Celtic midfielder many expected would be included, Strachan is pinning hopes on his six-strong cadre of players from the Parkhead club.
“They’re on this run where they think they are invincible, which is fantastic,” he said.
Strachan explained that McGregor and other midfielders are suffering for the good form of others in what is Scotland’s strongest department. But he found space for Kenny McLean, the Aberdeen midfielder long touted for another call-up. The squad will be trimmed to 23 players after Saturday’s Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Aberdeen.
Even though McLean’s side lost, Strachan was struck by how the midfielder stood out in the recent Friday night televised clash with Celtic. McGregor also played that night but proved unable to force his way into Strachan’s reckoning.
“These midfielders are really unfortunate,” he said. “If you go and watch Kevin McDonald playing for Fulham he does alright as well. There are a couple of midfield players who you see and think: ‘Oh, that’s a shame’. But we are strong in there, we really are strong in there. Again, I wouldn’t want to bring along people who I didn’t think had a chance of playing.”
Despite McGregor’s absence the squad is once again based around a kernel of half-a-dozen Celtic players – Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths, Craig Gordon, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney.
It would not be unrealistic to expect all six to start against England as Strachan bids to tap into the good vibrations currently being felt at his former club Celtic.
Strachan, who was in charge at Celtic between 2005 and 2009, described their achievement in completing a league season without losing a game as “sensational”. Whether or not the Parkhead club go on to complete the treble in this weekend’s Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen, Strachan is confident there will be no drop off in intensity from the corps of Celtic players.
Strachan selected six Celtic players to start Scotland’s last outing, a 1-0 win over Slovenia. He is set to rely on them again despite such a long, punishing season. Including friendlies, Sunday’s win over Hearts was Celtic’s 66 th match of a campaign which will conclude with Saturday’s showpiece occasion at Hampden.
“There was a concern that might be a dip after the Celtic players won the league, but there wasn’t a dip there,” noted Strachan. “They have got that mentality it seems. They say: ‘I’m enjoying this, I must keep this going, wherever I play I must win’.”
Strachan accepted this doesn’t always happen when teams reach a with games still left to play, turning to his son Gavin’s recent experiences at League Two side Doncaster Rovers. They won promotion with five games left and then lost four and drew the other of their remaining fixtures.
“There are so many clubs who win things early then drop away. We have seen that many times,” he said.
“It is very hard to keep your team going,” he added. “But they have kept it going, the whole Celtic gang. We saw how they played here against Slovenia and we’re hoping they can keep that going. They’re on this run where they think they are invincible, which is fantastic.
“They are enjoying every game. Ask any of them if they’re tired just now. Tiredness only seems to creep in when you are getting beat.”
Strachan took a moment to pay tribute to Celtic, whose win over Hearts on Sunday meant they became the first Scottish side since Rangers in 1898-99 to record an unbeaten league season.
“It’s sensational,” said Strachan, who won three consecutive Scottish league titles as Celtic manager.
“Not to make a mistake or have a lapse in concentration during the season is incredible. I’ve been there. When I was there, we had lack of concentration a couple of times. So to do that has been absolutely sensational.”