OF ALL the selection dilemmas facing Scotland manager Gordon Strachan ahead of tomorrow’s European Championship qualifier against Gibraltar, the issue of goalkeeper would normally be the least of his problems.
After all, current Scotland goalkeeper coach Jim Stewart, who turned 61 earlier this month, could play and probably not have too much to worry about against a side still seeking their first competitive goal in international football.
But, while the choice of goalkeeper won’t hopefully be of too much significance to the result, it is still being eagerly awaited since it will throw further light on who enjoys the status of current No 1 goalkeeper.
Andy Goram recently commented that it is Scotland’s current great fortune to be blessed with their “best-ever group of goalkeepers”, with reference to the current trio of David Marshall, Allan McGregor and Craig Gordon.
They are all fighting it out for the gloves, with Marshall, who has played in all four Euro 2016 qualifiers to date, expected to take his place between the posts again.
Not that the Cardiff City goalkeeper is taking anything for granted, despite his good form in recent international appearances.
The 17-times capped Marshall has been a faithful servant to Scotland over the years, turning up as understudy to Gordon in the years when there was no question who occupied the No 1 jersey.
But Gordon’s subsequent injury nightmare and the emergence of McGregor as a credible alternative means that the question of who plays is much less clear-cut. This is particularly the case given Gordon’s impressive return to action at Celtic.
Strachan gave Gordon and McGregor a half each in Wednesday night’s 1-0 win over Northern Ireland. That could well mean Marshall was being kept in reserve for tomorrow, when whoever plays will likely be more heavily involved as an auxiliary sweeper.
Despite memories of long years kicking his heels on the sidelines with Scotland, Marshall says he prefers to be a spectator even if he is lucky enough to be playing. If he is under-employed then that means his team are doing the attacking and are therefore more likely to win, which, he says, is the primary objective.
“I prefer doing nothing,” said Marshall. “But, concentration-wise, it will be difficult. This is probably the only time with Scotland I’m not expected to have much to do. But concentration is a massive thing. I had it with Celtic when I was younger, playing a lot of games when there wasn’t a lot to do.
“We just have to deal with it – we just have to train as we normally do. Concentration levels have got to be high. Football is weird. A deflection, a set piece, anything [could happen]. The crowd will help and we need to start the game well as the earlier we can score the better.”
Marshall noted that it was not until the morning of the game that he knew he would be starting in the first qualifier of the campaign, against Germany in September.
As for hints regarding who might start this time around, he said: “The gaffer hasn’t done the team yet, so I’ll just take it as it comes. It doesn’t bother me either way. It’s been like that through my career, so I’ll just train away.
“I’ve been in the squad long enough to know it’s hard to sit and not play. But I’ve played the last few qualifiers and I’m looking to play Sunday.
“With the standard of the keepers here, it’s difficult to consider yourself the No 1,” he added. “I’ve waited a long time to get a chance, but the boys are all fit. Craig has done great to get playing at Celtic and Allan is playing in the Premiership and won’t take it for granted. I don’t think it would be a massive decision whoever plays, but the gaffer has stuck with me since the beginning of the campaign. I hope to keep playing well and stay in the side.”
There is no enmity between the keepers, who have all known spells as the man in possession of the jersey, with Marshall currently in the driving seat. “We’ve been together for a long time now,” he said.
“I’ve been here for over ten years and Craig has been the same, obviously minus a couple of years through injury. We all know each other so well and we are used to the standard. When we are together, it lifts us to make each other better.”
“Everyone knows my history with Scotland,” added Marshall, who made his debut in August 2004, against Hungary. “I had to wait years and years to get caps, so it makes each one more valuable now as I get older.
“I don’t want to give it up, so I’ll just continue to do what I can. It doesn’t matter to me if it is Germany or Gibraltar.
“There is a lot of pressure on us to win the game and it puts us in a great position if we manage to do it.”
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