Scotland v Serbia: Allan McGregor’s return provides injection of positivity

ALLAN McGregor’s availability for Saturday’s vital World Cup qualifier against Serbia has been described as a “huge bonus” by Peter Houston, who yesterday revealed that Danny Fox and Russell Martin are both out of the opening Group A game, with Charlie Mulgrew a doubt.

It had been anticipated that McGregor would sit out this first fixture as well as Tuesday night’s clash with Macedonia after the goalkeeper injured his groin in the friendly against Australia last month.

However, he has returned to action quicker than expected and made his debut for new club Besiktas at the weekend, keeping a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory over Karabukspor.

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Houston revealed that McGregor had taken an injection to play on Saturday and he may need the same medication in order to perform this weekend.

The assistant manager sounded comfortable with this scenario. It was believed last night that McGregor did not take part in yesterday’s training session for precautionary reasons.

“I’d have been confident if Gilksie [Matt Gilks] had been the man that was picked, but having Allan back is that bit special and I am delighted,” said Houston.

“The club [Besiktas] obviously injected him and Allan must have felt better, and that’s the most important thing.

“If he had been injected and he did not feel right he wouldn’t have played, whether the club had wanted to play him or not.

“It’s a huge bonus to us that he’s fit and available and played on Saturday because when he got his injury against Australia the concern was that he was going to be ruled out even for the October games, so whatever they have done over there [in Turkey] they have done well.”

The news was not so good for full-backs Fox and Russell, both of whom sustained injuries while playing for their clubs in the English Premier League at the weekend.

Southampton defender Fox hurt his groin in his side’s 3-2 defeat to Manchester United while Martin injured his ankle making a block tackle in Norwich City’s draw at Tottenham Hotspur. Paul Dixon of Championship side Huddersfield Town and Gary McKenzie of League One outfit Milton Keynes Dons have been called into the squad.

Mulgrew, who could also play at full-back, missed Celtic’s draw against Hibs at the weekend with an Achilles knock.

Before the unavailability of Fox and Martin was confirmed last night, Houston said that the players in question could still remain with the squad in view of Tuesday’s clash with Macedonia.

For the moment, manager Craig Levein is happy with the squad selected last week. Striker Kenny Miller was still in transit from the United States as Houston met with reporters yesterday, with the player due to arrive at the Scotland headquarters in Renfrewshire last night after taking part in Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2-0 loss to LA Galaxy on Sunday.

Providing he is fit, Miller is expected to lead the line on Saturday but Houston believes new Blackburn Rovers signing Jordan Rhodes will give Levein something to ponder in training this week. Since scoring on his full debut for Scotland against Australia last month, Rhodes has become a striker worth £8 million after his move from Huddersfield Town to Ewood Park. But Houston does not anticipate the size of transfer fee weighing heavily on the 22-year-old’s shoulders.

“If anything that should give him even more confidence,” he said. “He doesn’t determine the transfer fee and it doesn’t change him as a player. With his performance against Australia he has given himself a huge lift. The crowd’s reaction was brilliant for him.

“He is such a lovely, laid-back lad. His father [Andy, the former St Johnstone and Dunfermline goalkeeper] was eccentric, but Jordan is a level-headed boy and I don’t think it will get to him.”

Houston described Gary Caldwell’s performance when deployed as a sitting player in midfield in the 3-1 victory over Australia as “one of the highlights” of the evening. He added that it had given Levein and himself “food for thought” as they ponder Saturday’s line-up.

The situation regarding Christophe Berra complicates the issue slightly. The Wolves defender is expected to start alongside Andy Webster in the middle of defence. However, his fiancée Amy is due to give birth to their first child this week. Levein has given Berra permission to delay his arrival at the Scotland HQ and Caldwell is on stand-by to revert to a centre-half role. “It would be lovely to play him there [in midfield] but we have to assess things,” said Houston, in reference to Caldwell. “[Will Berra] be ready and switched on?”

Charlie Adam is another player who has changed clubs in a multi-million-pound move since last appearing for Scotland, having switched to Stoke City from Liverpool. “I think he has done the right thing because if he was going to be a bit-part player then he has already done that when he was at Rangers,” said Houston. “He went to Blackpool and showed the whole of England how good he is.”