Scotland: Gordon Strachan praises Darren Fletcher

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SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan was delighted with the performance of Darren Fletcher in the 1-0 friendly win over Northern Ireland.

Fletcher made his first international start since Scotland’s 2-1 defeat in Germany in September and completed his first 90 minutes for his country since 2012.

With Scott Brown on the bench, the 31-year-old captained the side and moved the ball around well and will have given Strachan food for thought ahead of the European Championship qualifier against Gibraltar on Sunday.

Scotland 1-0 Nothern Ireland: Match report

Gordon Strachan happy with Scotland’s attitude

Fletcher is likely to be competing with West Brom team-mate James Morrison for a place in midfield alongside Brown and Strachan believes he has benefited from moving to the Hawthorns from Manchester United.

Darren Fletcher captains Scotland against Northern Ireland. Picture: SNS

Darren Fletcher captains Scotland against Northern Ireland. Picture: SNS

Strachan said: “I was really pleased with Darren. It was a big decision for him to move but it’s been a good decision for him and it’s been a great decision for West Brom as well, because if you look at the improvement since Tony Pulis and Darren went along, it’s made a big difference.

“Two top professionals who just want to win. It makes a big difference.”

Strachan was also happy with Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie, who played on the right of Scotland’s midfield but had obviously been told to cut inside on his favoured left foot.

The debutant had a quiet first half but had a couple of efforts at goal before his corner set up Christophe Berra’s 85th-minute headed winner.

Darren Fletcher of Scotland battles with Steven Davis of Northern Ireland. Picture: Getty

Darren Fletcher of Scotland battles with Steven Davis of Northern Ireland. Picture: Getty

Strachan said: “I thought he got better as the game went on, he got more of the ball and got more comfortable. He is tidy in everything he does. that’s a big thing in international football, not to give the ball away.

“He can be pleased with his debut. As I said to him, it was far better than mine.”

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill fielded an inexperienced line-up ahead of his side’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Finland on Sunday and was satisfied with their performance.

“It was obviously disappointing to lose a goal, but when you make so many substitutions it makes set-pieces more difficult, because you are continually changing markers,” he said.

“I brought off players with bigger physical stature and in normal games I would have taken that into consideration. But you have to put players on the pitch to give them experience.

“For example, I take off Josh Magennis and bring on Billy McKay and you automatically lose a marker. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have made those changes. And Jonny Evans was off at that stage too.

“It was disappointing to lose. It would have been nice for Michael McGovern to keep a clean sheet because he played so well.

“But I’m not despondent, it was a good opportunity to give players 90 minutes.”

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