Seeing the former Under-21 cap being utilised in a slightly different way at club level has given Gordon Strachan food for thought as he attempts to select as many in-form players as possible for the vital World Cup qualifying clashes with Slovenia and England. The win-or-bust matches come several months after the last competitive game and Strachan says that a change in circumstances for several players leaves scope for others to be given a chance.
That includes Cairney, who is expected to be included in the squad for the upcoming friendly against Canada, on 22 March, which will serve as a warm-up for the Slovenia head-to-head four days later.
“I’m sure people have seen some of our midfield players playing recently and go, ‘we’re doing no bad in there’. James Morrison is back to his best, Cairney has been a big feature of Fulham.
“Cairney played for Fulham, when he first joined, for about a year as the right side of a four, doing what Matt Ritchie does, what Robert Snodgrass does, the very same thing.
“My opinion at that time was that Ritchie and Snodgrass were the best at doing that right side, left foot thing and Forrest can do his other bit. Now Cairney has moved into a three in midfield. So it’s a different person. As a matter of fact, I saw him playing just off a striker at Wolves recently. Then he went back to his normal position in the second half and he was terrific.
“They’ve found a position for Tom Cairney that suits him just now, but before the England game he was playing in the Snodgrass/Ritchie area and I do believe they’re real top players.”
But is he in the reckoning now? “Oh yes, definitely! I’ve seen him play in some great games recently.”
He is not the only player vying for Strachan’s attention, with guys likes Stuart Armstrong, at Celtic, and Hearts’ Jamie Walker among those also being touted for a place in the squad after impressing on club duty, while there may need to be a few alterations in defence as well.
“It’s been a long time since the England game and it’s amazing how many people have changed. I call it leaving footprints. With some, before the England game, there were no footprints. If there had been people would have been talking about those who were missing. But since that game there are some leaving footprints with assists, goals and man of the match awards. Some have become captains at their club from not getting a game early in the season. Some others haven’t been getting games, Hanley’s had one or two games. Charlie Mulgrew is back in the groove but others like Kech [Ikeyi Anya] aren’t playing so much. So it’s a long time since we last played.
“We’ve got two games against Canada and Slovenia and we’ll have a big squad initially and then cut it down a bit after the first game. There are new faces out there and when people in the media start talking about who’s doing well and making an impact then we sit up and take notice too.
“You also have your mates looking out for you too, people like Gary McAllister, Gary Caldwell or Steven Pressley are all at games and they tell you what’s going on.”