GORDON Strachan has issued a robust defence of Steven Fletcher’s status as Scotland’s first-choice striker for the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
The Sunderland player, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, drew another blank on international duty when Scotland defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 at Hampden in Wednesday night’s challenge match.
Fletcher has now scored just once in his 19 appearances for his country, his only goal coming six years ago in a World Cup qualifier against Iceland.
Goals have also dried up for Fletcher at club level in the past two years. He scored three for Sunderland last season and has managed just four in 28 appearances for the Wearside club so far in the current campaign, the last of them almost five months ago.
But although Fletcher again failed to convert a couple of inviting chances against Northern Ireland, he retains the faith of Scotland manager Strachan ahead of Sunday’s Euro qualifier against Group D minnows Gibraltar at Hampden.
Strachan is more than satisfied with the overall performance levels the former Hibs, Burnley and Wolves forward has delivered as the spearhead of his 4-2-3-1 formation.
“Steven is terrific to watch,” said Strachan. “He is elegant, clever and he brings people into play. You can trust him when the ball goes up to him, so we can then get other players up beside him. But I’d like to see more people getting round about him. I’d like to have a look at his chances against Northern Ireland again. But there was lovely movement from him and link-up play. All his game is needing is a goal.
“But I don’t think that it is affecting the overall thing. I don’t think it’s affecting his touch or his willingness to work. You see him sliding into tackles and making blocks.
“So if you don’t have your goalscoring boots on, then you dig in and do something else for the team, so I’m happy with that. We get more goals from other areas of the team rather than an out and out striker.
“But in the first half against Northern Ireland, I didn’t think we had enough people in the box. If you move people into the box, then defenders will move, which will allow strikers like Steven or Jordan Rhodes a bit of space.
“We played too much around the edge of the box so I would like to see more bodies in the box. In saying that, we don’t have a Lukas Podolski or a Thomas Muller who comes in off the line.
“But you don’t have to be scoring goals as long as your team is winning. So I’m fine with that, I went to bed fine on Wednesday night because the team was winning and making chances.”
Strachan was gratified by the identity of Scotland’s match-winner on Wednesday, substitute Christophe Berra grabbing the game’s only goal with five minutes remaining.
The Ipswich Town central defender, who has scored four goals for his club in the English Championship this season, was making his first Scotland appearance since November 2013 after falling behind Russell Martin, Grant Hanley and Gordon Greer in the pecking order under Strachan.
“When we put Christophe on, we knew that he had scored a few goals this season and he came up with another one,” said Strachan.
“I felt pleased for him because he has been to all the squad get-togethers and not played, so we had to get him on the pitch this time to make all of his travels previously worthwhile.”
Strachan is confident Scotland will not be guilty of any complacency on Sunday against a Gibraltar side who have conceded 21 goals in their four previous matches in Group D so far.
“Our players have not got to where they are now without treating games properly,” he insisted.
“You just had to watch their intensity in training this week when they were playing amongst themselves to see their hard work.
“You don’t get to where they are by taking anything for granted. That just won’t happen – you can rest assured that won’t happen.
“We’ve got to treat Gibraltar with respect. Remember, the world champions Germany only beat them 4-0.”
Despite that, Strachan has no intention of requesting patience from the Scotland support who will be anticipating a comprehensive victory on Sunday.
“I can’t tell our fans how to behave and they’ve been fantastic for us,” he added. “I’d imagine we’ll get about three minutes into the game before they start to get anxious.
“That’s just the way we are, everybody is like that. There is not a problem, we all come along to watch games and get anxious. But as long as the players don’t get anxious, that’s the main thing.”
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