SCOTLAND are inching nearer to a possible Euro 2016 finals place but they are doing it without some old, talented friends. For the second competitive international in a row, Darren Fletcher was an unused substitute on Saturday against Republic of Ireland.
That passed without much comment at the time since so much else was happening. But down inside the corridors of the Aviva stadium after the match, it did seem strange to see the man once second only to James McFadden in the Tartan Army talisman stakes allowed to walk on by without being asked to stop to speak to reporters.
He hadn’t played, after all. What had he to say about James McCarthy’s elbow into Russell Martin’s face, or the tactics of Martin O’Neill (or Gordon Strachan, for that matter)? His comments would have been interesting, sure, but would not have been informed by his involvement in the heat of battle. Others were sought out instead.
But now the dust has settled, it is reasonable to ask what Fletcher thinks of this side- lining, particularly when, for the first time in almost four years, he has been playing regular club football again. But it was his West Bromwich Albion team-mate James Morrison who was selected to play alongside Scott Brown, the new on-field skipper, in Dublin. Had Charlie Mulgrew not been needed in the centre of defence, he would doubtless have started in the midfield place some (this writer included) would prefer to see Fletcher occupying.
Instead, Fletcher was left on the bench throughout, as happened against Gibraltar. Not required for either a game in which a win was guaranteed and another in which Scotland didn’t dare lose begs the question what are the circum-stances in which the manager will turn to Fletcher again, other than injury?
Mention of McFadden also brings to mind his current situation. Aged only 32, the injury-afflicted midfielder is now without a club following a less-than-successful stint at St Johnstone. He continues to look on from an even greater distance than Fletcher as Scotland seek to seal the qualification that was not quite attainable when both were in their pomp.