BRIGHTON midfielder Liam Bridcutt and Hull City forward George Boyd were the surprise inclusions in the Scotland squad announced today by Gordon Strachan, with Gary Mackay-Steven the other uncapped player to be included for this month’s World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Serbia.
But there is no place in the 28-man group for Leigh Griffiths, who should consider himself unlucky to be omitted, according to the national manager.
In all, five players named yesterday were not selected by Strachan for his first match in charge, the friendly against Estonia, while five from that squad have been omitted for the forthcoming double-header. Danny Fox and Graham Dorrans are the other two additions, while Lee Wallace, Phil Bardsley, Scott Brown, Jamie Mackie and Matt Phillips miss out, in some cases because of injury. Darren Fletcher remains on the sidelines because of illness.
“It’s all about form,” Strachan said. “Some players, at different times in the season, are feeling better than others. You have to pick players who, when they go on the pitch, are feeling good about themselves.”
Brighton player Bridcutt qualifies for Scotland thanks to his grandfather, who was born in Edinburgh, and has particularly impressed Strachan’s assistant Mark McGhee. “Mark has watched him more than I have for the last year or so,” Strachan continued. “I’ve watched him a couple of times through my media work and until six months ago I didn’t realise that he was eligible for Scotland.
“What I see is somebody who understands the game. He wants to get on the ball and he knows how to stop moves. When he gets the ball, he gives you a good pass. That allows you to go and counter-attack.
“Also, the fact that Darren and Scott are not there to play in central midfield, we needed somebody to help us in that area. Mark has done his homework on Liam and the type of person he is. Does he want to play, will he be good for the squad? We’ve done our homework there.”
Hull City player Boyd has been getting enthusiastic reviews from a number of managers and Strachan said the 27-year-old had a lot more to his game than just a flamboyant approach. “He looks flamboyant because of his hair, but he is elegant. I spoke to [his former at Peterborough] Darren Ferguson about him recently and he said he’s the best player he’s ever worked with,
“I think Steve Bruce said recently that he didn’t realise how good he was. I tried to buy him when I was at Middlesbrough and it didn’t materialise. Big Alex [McLeish] tried to buy him at Nottingham Forest, and
between the four of us there’s a half decent manager in there and we think he’s a good player.”
Griffiths, who scored his first hat-trick in senior football last weekend in Hibernian’s 4-2 Scottish Cup win over Kilmarnock, clearly fits the manager’s requirement for players to be in form. But in this instance Strachan opted to keep faith with Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes. “Leigh was very close to making the squad and can count himself as very unfortunate,” he explained.
“We did have a lot of conversations about him on Monday and Tuesday – Stuart [McCall, Strachan’s other assistant coach], myself and Mark. He’s unlucky that we have people who are on form like Fletcher and Rhodes who’s always going to score goals, plus [Shaun] Maloney can play up there as well.
“There’s a right few who are actually playing well at the moment. He was very, very close, that’s for sure. The decision came down to this morning on that one.”
Strachan’s emphasis on effectiveness over entertainment in the case of Boyd also applies to Mackay-Steven. The Dundee United 21-year-old has enthralled spectators with some trickery this season, but according to the manager it is his ability to get results which is far more important. He’s a footballer
who can do things. I don’t
really want to get involved in tricks and magic. What he does is vital in today’s game, because teams work very hard to prevent passing, but what they find hard to stop is people beating people.
“If you look at the squad – what are we good at? We’ve got energy and people who can beat players. So we’ll try to get as many as those on the pitch as possible.
“If you look at Estonia, we tried to do that. If you looked at the fouls in the first half we had two against us and they had 15. That showed that the players were trying to eliminate people and do things that are different.”
Gary Caldwell will continue as captain – an easy decision to make in the absence of Brown and Darren Fletcher, Strachan said. Scotland meet Wales at Hampden on Friday, 22 March, then play Serbia in Novi Sad on the following Tuesday.