Gordon Strachan to consider two up front for Scotland

Steven Fletcher has now fully recovered from the virus that kept him out of last week's friendly in Prague. Picture: SNS
Steven Fletcher has now fully recovered from the virus that kept him out of last week's friendly in Prague. Picture: SNS
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A doleful piano accompaniment from the room next door was the soundtrack as Gordon Strachan mused on his striker options for tonight’s friendly with Denmark.

An admission that he might yet consider two up front caused enough surprise to warrant a dramatic clunk of piano keys. As it stands, Steven Fletcher, Leigh Griffiths and Chris Martin are fighting it out to play the lead role in part two of a friendly double header.

A welcome 1-0 win v Czech Republic in Prague has already been secured by a mostly different group of players. Now back in the stately opulence of Scotland’s Mar Hall training base Strachan conceded he might be willing to play with two strikers. It was a statement freighted with enough significance to stop all the grandfather clocks.

However, he then qualified this by adding that those players at his disposal are not quite of the standard to allow him to do so, not on the international stage at any rate.

The pianist resumed playing. The clocks ticked on.

But Strachan did not rule out the possibility of Fletcher, who has recovered from the virus ruling him out of last week’s clash, forming a duet with Griffiths at some point this evening.

However, it’s likely he will start with one or the other, with Derby County’s Martin – who he described as the best of the three at holding up the ball – also firmly back in his thoughts.

Strachan remains wedded to the idea of flooding the midfield, where games, he insisted, are won and lost. “Listen I will change it to two if I get two great ones [strikers],” he said. “I will change my system to wherever the great players come from. But, at this moment, this system works for the group of players we have got where we are strong.

“But I will change it, don’t worry about that. At this moment the way we play is suited for the group of players we have had in the last couple of years. If there are great players that come in, then it might be like Sweden – they play with two up front because they have [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and he needs someone round about him. Fine, I will do that [if that’s the case].”

Asked whether Fletcher and Griffiths could play up front together, he said: “We will soon find out. I am not saying it is going to be tomorrow. But there will be opportunities in the future.”

He explained that playing two up front would require to “reinvent” the four midfielders playing in behind, which as well as being a crucial area of the park in international football, is also somewhere Scotland seem to be getting it right. Indeed, Scott Brown will win his 50th cap in this department this evening.

But Strachan is also heartened that Griffiths, Scotland’s player of the year elect, has improved so markedly since handing him his full international debut more than three years ago, against Croatia. It would be harsh if having worked so hard at honing his game as a lone frontman, 
Griffiths was to learn Strachan has suddenly ripped up this template.

As the striker explained himself at the weekend, it is now more of a surprise to hear he will be partnering another striker, whether for club or country. Griffiths, Strachan stressed yesterday, has a lot to be proud about.

But he cautioned that finishing – Griffiths has scored 35 times so far this season – isn’t the only gauge of an international striker, particularly one operating in a side where hard work is key.

“A year-and-a-half ago, he was on loan to Hibs, he looked at that and thought: ‘No, this isn’t for me’,” reflected Strachan. “So he’s the one who has changed his career. I don’t think there is any one coach or person who has done it for him, he has changed it.

“Everything,” he added, when asked for those areas where Griffiths has improved. “Strength, understanding, better in the air, better movement in the box. Everything has improved.

“Leigh has made himself a better player.”

Griffiths’ emergence is all the more impressive since he was reckoned to be someone on course to push a career self-destruct button, and he isn’t the only one. Brown, who will skipper the side tonight as he hits a half-century of caps, was also in danger of becoming his own worst enemy.

Now he is the first to ensure new recruits to the group such as club-mate Kieran Tierney, who is in line to start tonight after shaking off an ankle niggle, feel at home. Only 18, Tierney is one of those ultra-committed players Strachan relishes working with, and, perhaps, is slightly in awe of.

Strachan recalled being a member of the “silly brigade” at the start of his career at Dundee, in days when going out a couple of nights before a game was normal behaviour.

“I thought that was the way you were as a professional,” he said. “It was great going out on a Thursday night, wonderful – I just wondered how I was tired on a Saturday.” It was only later that he got into “seaweed tablets, bananas, porridge – and going to bed at two in the afternoon”.

He paid tribute to Brown, who has undergone a similar sea change in attitudes to lead both his club and country. “The Scotland squad and Scottish football would be a duller place without Scott Brown, that’s for sure,” said Strachan, who signed the midfielder for Celtic from Hibs.

“So we have to thank him. He’s had his indiscretions over the years but even that has been a bit of a giggle at times. Nobody has really been hurt. He’s just great to have about the place. I’ve known him for nearly ten years and he’s certainly made my life more interesting, that’s for sure.”