There were few positives to take from Scotland’s Friday night friendly defeat to Costa Rica. Five young players made their international debuts - of those Oli McBurnie made the best impression - and Andy Robertson took his Liverpool form into the game, but otherwise there was little to quicken the pulse on a flat evening.
The squad travel to Budapest keen to make a better impression against their Hungarian hosts on Tuesday. Here are four things we’d like to see from Alex McLeish’s second game in charge.
Another run out for Oli McBurnie
With Leigh Griffiths currently injured, the door for another striker to stake a claim is not only ajar, but hanging off its hinges. The more experienced players used under Gordon Strachan never fully convinced and only Matt Phillips of those options - shoehorned in as a centre forward rather than as a winger - is in the current squad.
Jason Cummings didn’t see any action against Costa Rica and he’ll be keen to make an appearance against Hungary, but McBurnie deserves another chance. The striker, currently on-loan to Barnsley from Swansea, has scored six Championship goals since the beginning of February and against the experienced Costa Ricans performed positively. His hold-up play was reasonable and although he was often starved of service, he played with a verve and confidence absent from some of his fellow debutants. It will be fascinating to see if he can build on that display.
A Scottish Premiership-centric midfield
The midfield against Costa Rica had a distinctly English feel to it. Debutant Scott McTominay was born there, as was Matt Ritchie and Tom Cairney, while Scots-born Kevin McDonald has spent much of his career down South. There has been a fascination with English-based players in previous Scotland regimes and while this is both understandable and entirely reasonable, the feeling persists that players based within our own borders are unfairly sidelined for their English counterparts.
Against the Costa Ricans, the Premiership players made their appearances from the bench, but in Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor’s cases, they did enough to suggest they should start on Tuesday. With John McGinn, James Forrest, Kenny McLean and Jamie Murphy also in the squad, it’s a good chance to show what those plying their trade at home can do.
A debut for Jack Hendry
If there was any doubt about the paucity of defensive talent within the current Scotland set-up, a cursory look to the bench on Friday night would have told you much. Amongst the raft of midfielders and strikers sat only two defenders, neither of whom saw a minute of action. While Barry Douglas finds himself unfortunately stationed behind Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney at left back, Jack Hendry does not have such problems at centre half.
While some would, with good cause, argue that there were more deserving young defenders who didn’t receive a call up - Liam Lindsay in particular - it’s understandable that Hendry would have caught McLeish’s eye. After all, he performed well enough at Dundee to attract the attention of Brendan Rodgers and, since his move to Celtic, has gained further experience as part of a mobile back three. It’s unlikely there’s much more we can learn about Grant Hanley in a Scotland shirt so why not give Hendry a start and see how he performs?
Perseverance with the formation
It’d be difficult to argue that the team and formation McLeish put out on Friday night worked. In the first half, the Scots were far too passive without the ball and too slow with it. Possession was slow and uninspired and left an exposed McBurnie to toil manfully up front. While Robertson rampaged up and down one flank, Callum Paterson struggled to impose himself on the other and was caught in no man’s land at Costa Rica’s goal.
Yet, there remain reasons to be hopeful that it might work in time. For one, it gets the most out of our best talent. Against the Costa Ricans, much of the attacking threat in the second half came from Robertson and it’s likely he’ll be the main focus again in Budapest, where the hosts lost three goals to Kazakhstan on Friday. Paterson, while not of a same standard, is still a a talented player capable of stretching defences on the other side.
Should the likes of Armstrong and McGregor start on Tuesday, there should be both greater support to the lone striker and an improved sense of urgency in the engine room. The formation might just need the right players.