HAVING welcomed one previously reluctant Fletcher back into the fold, Scotland’s management team will this week try to ensure they do not allow the unbridled enthusiasm for the cause of another member of that clan to cloud their judgment.
• Scotland play Wales on Friday and Belgium next Tuesday
• Grant Hanley withdraws as Robert Snodgrass is monitored
• Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown also watched in training
While the return of Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher after a two-year absence has dominated the build-up to the World Cup qualifying double header against Wales and Belgium, the presence of his namesake
Darren is regarded as just as significant by Craig Levein.
The Manchester United midfielder is eager to reclaim the captain’s armband for the first time since last November as his successful rehabiliation from a career-threatening bowel condition gathers pace.
Fletcher has made three appearances for United since making his comeback last month, two of them in the Champions League and one in the Capital One League Cup as Sir Alex Ferguson carefully oversees the 28-year-old’s reintegration into top level football.
Unsurprisingly, Fletcher reported for duty at the Scotland camp yesterday with the belief he will be able to play the full 90 minutes of both games against Wales in Cardiff on Friday night and then Belgium in Brussels just four days later.
But as with Celtic captain Scott Brown, whose ongoing hip problem has restricted his playing schedule for his club this season, Scotland may face a choice of fielding Fletcher in just one of the fixtures.
“Darren is saying he is alright for both games, but we have to monitor it carefully,” said Scotland assistant manager Peter Houston. “It’s alright the player saying it, and I know Darren knows his own body, but we have to see how physical it is going to be on Friday.
“I think it will be a typical British game in Cardiff. It’s not like playing Spain or teams like that. It could be quite physical, so we’ll have to see what it takes out of their bodies.
“The good thing is that we have an extra day this time, playing the first game on Friday rather than Saturday. But to try and second guess whether both Darren and Scott will play in both games is a bit early for me to try and do.
“There will be some players who will play in both games. But when you have players like Darren and Scott who have been out for a long time, you have to listen to the advice of the physios.
“Scott was very sore after Celtic’s game in Moscow on the astroturf and missed their game on Sunday. We have to respect the fact we have to look after the boy as well, whether or not he is keen to play in both games.
“Craig has a good relationship with all the club managers and they know that he won’t overuse or abuse them, especially the players who are just coming back from injury or illness.
“Darren has been out for a while and it’s fantastic that he is back. He is a quality player who has performed at the highest level in the Premier League, Champions League and for Scotland as well. If the player is saying that he is 100 per cent all right, then Craig will play him.
“It’s also brilliant to see Scott here and he’s also saying he can play in the two games. But that’s Scott. If he’s selected for Friday night’s game, it’s his body, he’ll know how sore he is. But we’ll be very, very careful.
“If he’s not played two games in three or four days for Celtic, it would be a big ask for him to do it for Scotland. He is so keen and enthusiastic but we have to monitor him and see what his recovery is like.
“It’s all right him saying he can play both games but we have to make sure he’s 100 per cent spot on before the manager could even think about selecting him for two games. Neil Lennon has already said he thinks he’ll be OK for one game and we’ll respect that.
“He (Levein) might turn round and say he thinks it is better for Scott to play in the Belgium game, I don’t know. That’s me surmising he might pick him for the second game if he thinks he is only going to be fit for one of them.
“Scott is here saying he is fit for two, but we will respect the fact he hasn’t done that for a while. We need legs in the team. But it’s great to have him back. His performances in the Champions League this season and some of his other performances for Celtic have been different class. He is maturing as a player on the park and he is a huge influence, one that we have missed in the last couple of games.”
One player Houston is delighted will not be missing this time is in-form West Bromwich Albion midfielder James Morrison who was the source of much amusement in the Scotland camp yesterday.
Morrison’s outstanding display in his team’s Premier League win over QPR on Saturday, prompting BBC pundit and former Spurs striker Garth Crooks to observe that is was time England manager Roy Hodgson considered calling the 26-year-old into his squad. Crooks appeared to have overlooked the fact that Morrison has already earned 23 caps for Scotland.
“Somebody told us about that this morning,” laughed Houston. “You can tell Garth he is too late to get James playing for England. I can’t believe he came out with that, I found it astonishing. But James is certainly another one of our players in really good form at the moment.”