Scotland on Sunday football writer Andrew Smith will be providing live updates from tonight’s match against Macedonia (kick-off 7.30pm) .
Can Gordon Strachan’s side get off the bottom of Group A and salvage some pride from what has been a lacklustre campaign?
Join Andrew from 7pm where he will be debating Scotland’s chances when their next qualification challenge begins next September for the European Championships in France in 2016.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan is considering the surprise selection of Steven Naismith as his central striker for tonight’s penultimate 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Macedonia.
As he continues to assess his attacking options following the retirement from international football of Kenny Miller, Strachan has already cast doubt on the suitability of Tartan Army favourite Jordan Rhodes for the lone front man role so often deployed by Scotland.
Rhodes pulled out of the squad on Sunday with a hand injury, the Blackburn Rovers player having made a late appearance as a substitute for Leigh Griffiths in Friday night’s 2-0 defeat against Group A leaders Belgium at Hampden.
Griffiths struggled to make an impact against the Belgians and Strachan is poised to look at another alternative in Skopje this evening. With Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher still absent as he returns from injury with his club, Strachan can pick from Naismith, Jamie Mackie or Ross McCormack.
As ever, the Scotland manager sets great store by what he witnesses in training from his players in the build-up to a match and he has strongly hinted that Naismith could get the nod tonight. The Everton player normally plays as an attacking wide midfielder for his club, but has filled a central role on occasion. “Steven Naismith looked good as a striker in training this morning,” said Strachan. “He understood everything. He understands what midfield players want from a striker. That can be just as important. If you’re not going to score loads of goals, you’ve got to make sure that the strikers can link up with midfield players who can score goals and can attempt to make things happen. At the moment, because we haven’t got a natural threat, to go and beat people and stick a cross on them, we’re having to put a lot more passes in than some teams.”
One factor which would mitigate against Naismith is his lack of match time at his club side so far this season under new manager Roberto Martinez. The former Rangers player has started just one game for Everton, against Stevenage in the Capital One Cup last month, and made two substitute appearances in the Premier League. The 26-year-old has scored just twice in 23 outings for Scotland so far, his most recent goal being the winner when Lithuania were beaten 1-0 at Hampden in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Hampden two years ago.
In the build-up to the Belgium match last week, Nottingham Forest forward Mackie had touted himself for the central role up front for Scotland. But he was not even named among the substitutes on the night. “I told Jamie on Friday that he would be stripped for this game,” said Strachan. “I’m just going to have a wee look before naming my team. “Listen, all of the strikers in the squad have got futures with us. I can’t batter them all the time. We’ve got to get the best out of what we’ve got until something else is here that improves the team.
“Yeah, Steven Fletcher can be the main man for us up front, he’s the one with a physical presence as well, but what happens if he gets injured again? That’s the position we are in.”
There will be one enforced change for Strachan tonight with Norwich City attacking midfielder Robert Snodgrass missing out through the suspension he picked up with his booking against Belgium on Friday. Watford wing-back Ikechi Anya made a bright impression when he made his debut as a substitute for Snodgrass in the final 30 minutes at Hampden but Strachan would not confirm if the newcomer had done enough to earn a starting berth against Macedonia. “I would like us to have got more of the ball to him when he came on against Belgium,” he said. “We should have trusted him more, because even if someone is tight to him, he’s the sort of player who will win free kicks and we can play from there. He was absolutely delighted to have come on and I saw he tweeted a nice picture of himself and his mum. That was good.”
James Forrest has a minor knock and the Celtic winger will be closely assessed by Strachan before he finalises his team selection. “We did a bit of work with the players today and tried to sort out a couple of things from Friday night,” added Strachan as he seeks a victory to try and drag Scotland off the bottom of Group A. It was about ‘If that happens again, then this is where you should be,’ and that kind of thing. We also looked at one or two combinations, with different people playing together. I took a lot of positive from the game on Friday. I only need to tweak it here and there, add a few players to the squad, and we will be fine.”