Shortly after making the easiest decision of his second spell in charge when installing Andy Robertson as captain, Scotland manager Alex McLeish is now facing his hardest.
He revealed that one of his goalkeeping rivals, Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor, will start tonight’s friendly with Belgium while the other will play in the altogether more important Nations League qualifier with Albania on Monday.
McLeish added that whoever lines up against Belgium tonight hasn’t necessarily lost out in the race to be No 1.
The Scotland manager stressed he has not yet settled on his first-choice goalkeeper. Such is the quality of his options he wants to be fair to both McGregor and Gordon.
The latter was No 1 under Gordon Strachan in Scotland’s last qualifying campaign.
McLeish revealed there’s been an “amicable arrangement” struck that allows each goalkeeper the chance to cement their place in 90-minute outings over the next few days.
The situation recalls England manager Ron Greenwood’s dilemma when Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton vied for the No 1 shirt in the 1970s and also Scotland manager Craig Brown’s embarrassment of riches when he could call upon Andy Goram and Jim Leighton.
“It’s difficult when you’ve got two goalies of a tremendous level,” said McLeish. “I know England had that problem away back in the day with Shilton and Clemence, and it was one game each, wasn’t it? It was the same with Goram and Leighton.
“I think there were eras when, at that time, it worked out for the coach. I’m not saying I want to lose any of the goalkeepers and then just have the ideal solution. I want these two guys to be around for as long as possible.
“For these two games we have an amicable agreement,” he added.
“If somebody has 40 world class saves on Friday night he might have nailed his position. But it’s a very difficult decision. It’s so difficult for me to say to you I can definitely pick one above the other.
“It is a tough decision but I’m in cahoots with Stevie Woods, the goalie coach,” he continued. “Stevie is very fair with the two experienced goalies and also Jordan Archer as well. Stevie and I had big discussions a couple of weeks ago before the squad assembled about how we play this.”
It is a potentially awkward situation for Woods, who is the goalkeeper coach at Celtic, where Gordon plays. He has clearly already established a day-to-day working relationship with Gordon.
McGregor, meanwhile, started McLeish’s only win to date since returning to the international manager’s post, against Hungary in March. He is roundly viewed to be a goalkeeper in form after a strong start to his second spell at Rangers. Neither he nor Gordon travelled on the summer tour to Peru and Mexico.
“Having had the talks with Stevie Woods and the boys they know we have to make a decision and they have to get on with it,” said McLeish.
“We believe the two of them have that competitive spirit where one wants to usurp the other. And the chat (we had) was along those lines.
“We are so lucky to have those two guys at that level,” added the Scotland manager.