Gordon Strachan has revealed some of the reasoning behind the personnel changes that ultimately failed to secure the desired outcome against England on Friday.
The manager’s adventurous outlook was clearly designed to gain the win that would have re-ignited Scotland’s World Cup ambitions. Instead they slid to a dispiriting defeat that leaves their qualification in peril and the manager’s future in severe doubt.
Strachan surprised many by dropping regular goalkeeper David Marshall in favour of Craig Gordon while also electing to start Leigh Griffiths in attack. Shortly after naming his latest squad last month Strachan made comments interpreted by some to suggest the player was too small to lead the line.
But Strachan explained that he has to manage Scotland like he managed at Coventry City and Southampton. He has to be open to making changes to fit different circumstances and challenges, hence Griffiths’ involvement and Ikechi’s Anya’s surprise appearance at right back.
“We’ve not got a team like Barcelona or Bayern where you say ‘that’s our team, you deal with it’,” he said. “When I was at Southampton, Coventry, I had to move my team about to play against the big boys. At Celtic it was different, we had the same system every week. But we can’t do that, so you have to find out the best way. So we wanted a bit more pace at the back, because they have flying machines up there.
“I don’t think anyone who came in did badly,” he added. “I thought Lee Wallace was outstanding, Kech [Anya] did his bit, Broony [Scott Brown] was up against people, Darren [Fletcher] the same. James [Morrison] tired a wee bit, James Forrest did alright, Griff did what he does.”
Griffiths is the third different striker to start in Scotland’s last three games, after Chris Martin led the line against Lithuania and Steven Fletcher in Slovakia. The Celtic player fared little better in an unforgiving role but was guilty of taking a shot in the first half when Robert Snodgrass was in a far better position to his left.
“That’s strikers for you,” said Strachan. “He might have passed it and Snoddy might have missed it. It doesn’t matter.
“He’s done well,” he added in reference to Griffiths, who has yet to score in a Scotland shirt after ten appearances. “It’s unfortunate he’s out of the Celtic team at the moment because they play a system that suits their team, but for this game we thought it was right for Leigh.
“There’s different times for different strikers when the game’s played in different areas but I was really pleased with him, he keeps his head down and works and he’s a funny character, even though he’s a bit short!”
Strachan explained Gordon’s return to the No 1 jersey was the result of a hunch on his part that it was time for a switch of goalkeeper.
“Sometimes you just think it’s the right time for a change,” he said. “Listen, it didn’t matter who was in goal because they never had a save to make. Apart from the three goals, Craig didn’t have a save, but that’s when you look at the quality [of England].”
In contrast to Scotland, England had three shots on target and scored three times. “What you get is world-class players going and putting headers in the back of the net, where we’ve had headers that go over the bar,” said Strachan, noting Grant Hanley’s effort that flew high over the bar in the first half.
“You feel the world’s against you at that point,” he said. “But it’s easy for me sitting there. Imagine being out there [on the pitch] when that’s happening and having to go again. It’s not easy for them.”