Gordon Strachan stays neutral over Hampden pitch battle

Gordon Strachan did his shouting during Tuesdays match.  Picture: Getty
Gordon Strachan did his shouting during Tuesdays match. Picture: Getty
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He is not one to content himself. Yet, if Gordon Strachan cared to do so, the Scotland manager could reflect on a notable outcome. His high-risk, two squad experiment, which secured – what he seemed ultra-keen to stress – streaky wins over the Czech Republic and Denmark, made for a postscript wherein he was placed on the defensive only in one respect: the state of the Hampden pitch.

His captain and confidante Scott Brown essentially put his manager on the back foot with his slating of the surface at the national stadium in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s 1-0 win at home over the Danes. Although this victory followed a win by the same scoreline for a different Scotland team in Prague, Brown’s comments ensured that the talking point across recent days has been the poverty of a pitch only relaid a month ago.

The most feverishly discussed of games to come on the pitch, inevitably, is only the second meeting between a Celtic and Rangers team in the four years since liquidation was visited on the Ibrox club.

When asked about the “spectacle” the Glasgow teams’ Scottish Cup semi-final on 17 April would serve up, Brown, with reference to a surface he called “bang average”, said such factors made the country a “laughing stock”. The Celtic midfielder said “you think the worst” every time you have to play on the Hampden pitch, lamented that it was used for every home game of Queen’s Park and described Murrayfield’s hybrid grass pitch as vastly superior.

Strachan, while not exactly wowed by the pitch, said that it is not exactly a peat bog, or troublesome to play on. Certainly, it didn’t seem an issue during an engrossing League Cup final between Ross County and Hibernian. Strachan was unperturbed by how it bore up in midweek, or the fact that the stadium in all respects seems substandard and soulless when only a third full, as was the case for the Danish friendly.

“It doesn’t affect the way we plan for games. The pitch didn’t seem to be a problem for Christian Eriksen, he seemed to be very good on that. And their right centre back [Simon Kjaer] was pinging balls left, right and centre on it so he didn’t have a problem with it. John McGinn – did he have a problem with it? I don’t think so.

“I’ve been on the pitch. We trained on it last Saturday. OK, it’s average, which is what Broony said. He said Murrayfield is better and I can understand that. But I don’t have a problem with it.

“I played on a lot, lot worse pitches than this. Far worse than this. We’re OK with this.

“There’s nothing we can do [about the lack of atmosphere]. We’re here until 2020 and we get on with it. Eighteen thousand on a night that wasn’t great, it was raining, wasn’t bad.”

The Scotland manager believes he has more players who may be able to adapt to international football after impressive debuts from Kieran Tierney and McGinn, and the fact that he had “no failures” among the 30-odd players he worked with over the past fortnight, a group that didn’t feature such as the injured Steven Naismith and James McArthur.

In addition, in such as Charlie Adam, Graham Dorrans and Lee Wallace he has experienced types he could throw straight into the team.

Strachan ruminated on when he was in charge of a Celtic side capable of beating Champions League holders on their way to the last 16 of the competition.

“Celtic and Rangers were both in the Champions League then,” he said. “I think Walter [Smith, then Scotland manager] had eight or nine who were playing regularly in Europe. That makes a big difference. Players playing in big games and against big players.

“Now apart from Celtic I don’t think we have any players who play in European football. That’s incredible. The Old Firm games are different to European games, different from anything else. It’s better to have them than not but whether it’s European style football… I don’t think so. Champions League football is invaluable.

“The players feel so good about themselves and they get to understand that level of football.”