Gordon Strachan will use tonight’s return to Prague to discover if Tony Watt and Ross McCormack can redeem Scotland’s reputation in a city where they once left a stain across the beautiful game.
In contrast to Scotland’s last visit to the Czech capital, Strachan is willing his team to show signs of attacking flair and off the cuff inspiration. Of course, not so much hinges on this trip as it did in 2010, when Craig Levein employed his heavily derided 4-6-0 formation in the hope Scotland could avoid defeat in a European Championship qualifier.
Steven Fletcher was among the strikers condemned to sit in the stand that night and he will again be missing this evening, though for less controversial reasons. He has picked up a virus and has remained in Glasgow with the intention of joining up with the squad for Tuesday’s friendly with Denmark.
His absence means it more likely that Tony Watt, the Charlton forward currently on loan at Blackburn Rovers, will make his international debut against Czech Republic at the Letna stadium. He and Fulham’s Ross McCormack are the only strikers now available to Strachan.
The former in particular is a surprise contender to become Scotland’s new talisman – or as the coach described it yesterday, fill the vacancy for someone who can “do special things and win games on their own”.
While it is unlikely Strachan will go to the other extreme from Levein and deploy two strikers in Prague, either Watt or McCormack will be asked to spearhead Scotland’s attack from the start. Both players offer the promise of doing the unexpected, which is something Strachan believes is missing from the team’s list of strengths. He is eager for someone able to score goals out of nothing.
The manager sought to draw some positives from Steven Fletcher’s absence. “We have two who are not out and out strikers as such, or target men as such,” Strachan said. “But we are trying to change that philosophy to thinking about goals first and playing second.”
After reviewing Scotland’s failed Euro 2016 qualifying campaign Strachan concluded the team had to work too hard to score the goals they did.
“When I look at some of the goals, we had eight, nine passes to score a goal,” he said. “We were having to work at things from corner kicks. I am looking for players who can beat players on their own, turn people, roll them, beat two and smack it into the back of the net.
“So we are looking for that player. We will give Tony and anyone else who can give us a sniff of that a chance. Ross is like that too. Ross can score goals and roll people. Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass] can maybe roll people and score a goal. So we are looking for these special players. If they are out there we will find them, but they also have to present themselves.”
Strachan has a tight squad of 18 players from which to select tonight. “We are all getting stripped!” he joked. But he stressed it was a serious assignment on the road to Russia 2018.
Asked whether it was important to return home with a victory against a side ranked 20 places above Scotland in the Fifa rankings at 25, he said: “Oh aye, that’s the thing that makes you happy as a coach, trust me.”