Gordon Strachan is preparing to make his biggest decision as Scotland manager as he seeks to re-ignite the national side’s fading World Cup hopes.
The under-pressure Strachan’s hopes of drawing Scotland back from the brink of World Cup elimination hinge on a choice he will make later today – who to play up front in the crucial Group F fixture against Slovenia at Hampden tomorrow night.
Given that his options are five strikers who, between them, have scored just ten goals for their clubs this year, his deliberations appear particularly taxing.
Strachan plans to announce his team to the players later today, after he completes his deliberations over the choice of centre-forward.
The manager knows the potential “consequences” of making a wrong decision as he weighs up which of Steven Fletcher, Chris Martin, Leigh Griffiths, Steven Naismith and Jordan Rhodes is best suited for the assignment.
All except Rhodes, currently on loan at Sheffield Wednesday from Middlesbrough, are currently struggling to play regularly for their clubs.
Strachan even hinted that he may opt to play two strikers, which would be a popular if brave decision on a night when so much is at stake, including his own future as Scotland manager.
“Yes, because we can’t afford to get it wrong,” he said yesterday, when asked if this was his most significant call in the role to date. “Listen, I don’t think we could have done any more coaching or worked any more on shape.
“But in club football, management is all about recruitment and making sure you get the right people in. In international football it’s all about picking the right people on the day.
“I’ve got to back myself to make that call,” he added. “We understand the consequences otherwise.”
Strachan wasn’t helped in his dilemma by what he saw in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Canada – or perhaps he was.
Only Steven Fletcher’s reputation survived intact for the simple reason he was the only one of Strachan’s five striker options who didn’t play on a wounding evening for the hosts at Easter Road.
Fletcher, who is being kept out of the Sheffield Wednesday side by fellow Scot Rhodes, is favourite to lead the line tomorrow after scoring nine goals in his 30 international apperances to date.
“I tried to give everybody a bit of a game [against Canada] and have a glimpse,” said Strachan. “But I think we saw rustiness. We need to find something to help them.
“It might be that we have goals in the squad but it might not always be strikers you play who score.
“There has to be a striker who says ‘pick me.’ There has to be one who says ‘I’m your one, it has to be me,’ but it might be we play two strikers. It’s something we’ve got to look at. But, for the game, somebody has to come to the fore and lead us. They need to lead the line and bring others into play.
“It’s one I’ll think a lot about before naming the team on Saturday night,” he added. “I’ve got to look at all the striker and ask myself who is the best for this game.
“It has to be the best one to play with the team I’m going to pick. It’s got to be someone who is compatible with the rest of the players. I’ve got a good idea who the rest of the players will be.”
Strachan admits the match against Canada was no-one’s idea of a entertaining spectacle but it proved invaluable for him as he finalises his plans for tomorrow night. He guarantees supporters that they will see a different Scotland at Hampden Park.
“I’m sure none of you reporters were skipping out your house going to the Canada game,” he said. “No-one was thinking ‘wow, this is a beauty this one.’
“There is an adrenaline factor which will be there on Sunday.
“I can tell you, late on Wednesday night at Easter Road, I’d have rather have been somewhere else. But it’ll be different at Hampden on Sunday night. There will be a shot of adrenaline which will give us the extra boost we need and that extra little bit of confidence.”