Malky Mackay set to give Matt Phillips nod over Jason Cummings

Matt Phillips, with Malky Mackay yesterday, could be leading the line against the Netherlands. Picture: SNS
Matt Phillips, with Malky Mackay yesterday, could be leading the line against the Netherlands. Picture: SNS
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Jason Cummings may have to wait to make his international debut, with Matt Phillips set to lead the line for Scotland against the Netherlands at Pittodrie on Thursday.

Interim manager Malky Mackay has been left with a dearth of forwards following Leigh Griffiths’ withdrawal with a calf injury.

Only three forwards were listed in a 24-man squad selected by Mackay – Cummings, Griffiths and Ryan Christie, who more often plays in an advanced midfield role for Aberdeen. The interim manager is considering using Phillips – who has earned his eight caps to date on the wing – through the middle in the friendly against Dick Advocaat’s side.

The West Bromwich Albion player has had fleeting experience as a striker for his present club and at previous side Queens Park Rangers.

Cummings is likely to taste Scotland action for the first time as a substitute providing injury does not impact on Mackay’s plans this week.

The 22 year-old proved to be a typically colourful interviewee at Scotland’s base at Dalmahoy, outside Edinburgh, yesterday. However, Mackay is displaying caution with someone who is still establishing himself at club level at Nottingham Forest following his summer move from Hibernian.

Cummings was an unused sub in Forest’s 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday after starting their previous seven games, scoring once. Mackay described someone still getting used to unfamiliar surroundings with Scotland on what is his first full call-up.

“He has been so far,” he said, replying to a suggestion Cummings is not exactly a shrinking violet. “If you think about it, he doesn’t know me and he’s not been in a Scotland squad before. His personality might come through in time and that’s good because I need to see personality.

“They’ve all got to learn how to build their career,” he added. “Look at Scott Brown now and Scott Brown as a kid. There is a huge difference in terms of his professionalism. Sometimes with some of them, the penny drops a little bit later. Sometimes it is about different environments.”

Mackay knows how hard it is to adapt to life in the second tier in England. The centre-half moved to Norwich City in 1998 from Celtic and found like tough initially in such a physical league.

“I learned, and that’s what anyone going down there has got to do, Jason being one of them,” he said. “He’s coming in here as someone who is an addition. Let’s see how he does in and about a Scotland squad, being involved, and how he is going forward.”

Mackay considered calling up Oliver McBurnie, who returned to the Swansea team on Saturday against Brighton after his mooted move to Barnsley broke down earlier this season. But the interim manager decided to let the striker play for the Under-21s, who have qualifying games against Latvia and Ukraine in the next seven days.

Mackay admitted Scotland have a problem when it comes to strength in depth at centre-forward, hence Phillips being tried out there.

“There is a dearth of them,” he said. “We have got Leigh Griffiths who we know is a given. But after that it is down to our talent ID department going forward to actually sit down with the manager and coaches and scouts and say ‘okay, who do we have?’

“You can’t buy one. It is clubs who have them. Clubs have got to play them. We have got to look at what is the best that is out there at centre forward that is Scottish. It is the way it is.

“There is not a lot we can do about in this camp here. I am looking whether a Matt Phillips, who has played in that position for West Brom, can play there, whether James Forrest and Ryan Christie can play in a false position or Cummings can play there in the next couple of days.”

Of Cummings, he added: “He’s got to make sure that he ends up becoming a starter for Mark Warburton (at Forest). He’s one of the forwards. He’s there. We’ve got two or three others. Matt Phillips is another who has and can play through the middle. James Forrest has played there in an emergency. Ryan Christie has played there in an off position. I’m hedging my bets.”