With Poland coming to Glasgow for the crunch match on October 8, this is how we’d like to see Scotland line up against Adam Nawałka’s men
The 1-0 in Georgia was disappointing. The 3-2 defeat to Germany less so, but only just. The performance against the world champions was all the more frustrating given the wretched 90 minutes in Tbilisi, but it proved that there is enough in this Scotland team to perform when it matters.
Ideally, Scotland will beat Poland and Gibraltar; Ireland will fail to beat Germany and Poland, and Scotland will sail through into the play-offs.
Even a draw against Poland would be enough for the Scots, coupled with a win over Gibraltar and two Irish defeats (or draw and defeat) thanks to the head-to-head ruling that would see Scotland pip Ireland to the play-offs.
Without further ado, here’s the Scotland team we’d count on to do the business against Poland:
GK: David Marshall - There’s no doubt that Craig Gordon would slot in between the sticks with no problem. The former Hearts and Sunderland ‘keeper has caught the eye with his performances for Celtic and he’s the most capped goalie in the squad. But a settled defence is key and David Marshall hasn’t done anything to warrant being unceremoniously shifted at this late stage in the qualifying campaign - and he was largely blameless for Germany’s three goals, as well as pulling off a handful of decent stops in the second 45 minutes.
RB: Alan Hutton - Aside from Steven Whittaker, Scotland lack a viable option at right back. Russell Martin is more than capable of filling in but his presence in central defence would be a big miss, and the Norwich stopper has built up a good partnership with Grant Hanley in the middle. So while Hutton may flatter to deceive at times, Strachan will likely stick with the Aston Villa full back for the Poland clash. And a settled defence is key - so we’d agree. Against Germany, Hutton showed flashes of why he’s collected nearly 50 caps for his country. If he can kick on from his Germany performance, Hutton could be a key player in the last two qualifiers.
CB: Russell Martin - As mentioned, Martin has built up a good partnership with Grant Hanley at the back, and Scotland looked less assured at the back against Georgia with Mulgrew in the middle with Martin.
CB: Grant Hanley - The Blackburn Rovers stopper has looked solid enough at the back for Scotland, and keeping him and Martin at centre half would allow the defence to remain settled ahead of the Poland showdown.
LB: Andrew Robertson - The former Dundee United full back loves to get forward. And he’s a natural left back, which helps. He’s put in some great performances for Scotland since bursting onto the scene, and there’s no reason why he can’t again. Despite new cap Graeme Shinnie’s performances for Aberdeen, Robertson has more experience on the international stage and for that key reason, we’d have the Hull defender in the back four.
DM: Scott Brown - Despite a couple of below-par performances, the skipper has looked like he’s regaining form for Celtic and his experience and influence on games shouldn’t be underestimated.
DM: Darren Fletcher - Offers composure and leadership in the middle of the park, and likes to get forward. Has shone for West Brom so worth a starting berth in our opinion.
LAM: Shaun Maloney - Scored the opener in Warsaw last year and had a hand in both Scotland goals on Monday night, and despite fading in the second half against Germany leading to his substitution (through injury, granted), Maloney is a key part of Scotland’s starting attack
CAM: Steven Naismith - offers an attacking threat whenever he plays and netted Scotland’s second in Warsaw. Could well be the missing link between the midfield and striker. And he scored a hat-trick against Chelsea. Some folk no doubt want him knighted, never mind handed a starting berth against Poland.
RAM: Matt Ritchie - Quick, direct and more than happy to chip in with the odd goal, Ritchie deserves a chance on the right. Although James Forrest’s recent form for Celtic may see Strachan maintain faith in the Hoops wide man.
ST: Steven Fletcher - Tin hat firmly on here, but we’d stick with Fletch. Mark McGhee hinted after the Germany game that the former Hibs striker needed better service from the midfielders - Naismith could certainly help out with that - and the Sunderland forward’s link-up play was rightly praised against Germany.
And if that fails, bring on Leigh Griffiths with 25 minutes left if necessary. Or Jordan Rhodes.
Squad in full
Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon, David Marshall, Allan McGregor. Defenders: Christophe Berra, Gordon Greer, Grant Hanley, Alan Hutton, Russell Martin, Charlie Mulgrew, Andrew Robertson, Graeme Shinnie, Steven Whittaker.
Midfielders: Ikechi Anya, Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher, James Forrest, Shaun Maloney, James McArthur, Kevin McDonald, James Morrison, Matt Ritchie. Forwards: Steven Fletcher, Leigh Griffiths, Chris Martin, Steven Naismith, Jordan Rhodes, Johnny Russell.