Mark McGhee defends picking James Morrison over Callum McGregor

Scotland coach Mark McGhee has defended the decision to extend Callum McGregor's absence from the Scotland squad despite a midfield vacancy emerging over the weekend.

West Bromwich Albion's James Morrison has been called into the Scotland squad. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
West Bromwich Albion's James Morrison has been called into the Scotland squad. Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison was drafted in by manager Gordon Strachan yesterday to replace Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney, who withdrew on Sunday with a knee injury.

The omission of in-form Celtic midfielder McGregor from the initial squad named by Strachan last week for the World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania and Malta caused a stir and now the 24-year-old, who scored his third goal of the season for the Scottish champions in their 1-1 draw against St Johnstone on Saturday, has been overlooked again.

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The experience of 31-year-old Morrison has been preferred after he made an 
earlier than anticipated return from the knee injury he sustained in June’s 2-2 draw against England at Hampden. The 44-times capped Morrison has played for 70 minutes in West Brom’s last 
two games.

McGhee said: “The feeling was that James wasn’t going to be quite ready but he has come forward and said he’s fine.

“He is a seasoned Premier League player now and we need as many of them as possible.

“I remember last year I went to see Celtic play St Johnstone. I came back to Gordon and told him Callum played really well. I thought he had an influence on the outcome, particularly in the second half.

“But we still have James Morrison, James McArthur, Barry Bannan – and not only are these guys good players, they are the guys in possession and have been here already through this. They are still playing well, they are still doing well for their clubs, and deserve to continue.

“At the moment we have too many players and too many riches in that area of the park. It’s not that any of us here don’t think Callum is a good player, or don’t think he has a future playing for Scotland. But at this moment we have the people we need in that area.”

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers expressed surprise at McGregor’s failure to make the squad but McGhee has no issues with those sentiments.

“I know Brendan and he protects his players, promotes his players and believes in his players,” he added. “He has every right to do that. But I think our argument as to why Callum’s not here is a rational one and a sensible one. Gordon won’t take offence from Brendan saying that and if something happened against Lithuania on Friday where we suddenly needed players called up, it’s not impossible somebody like Callum would be brought in for the Malta game next Monday.

“Because Brendan said that, and because there has been a feeling from quite a few people that maybe he should be here, that also wouldn’t stop Gordon from picking him. He’s not cutting off his nose to spite his face. We feel it’s a balanced decision, and we feel it’s the right decision.”

Sheffield Wednesday striker Steven Fletcher also withdrew from the squad at the weekend but will not be replaced.