Wednesday 1 March 2017

Storm clouds gather over Strachan ahead of vital Wembley test

Roddy Forsyth

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Gordon Strachan is putting a brave face on Scotland's disastrous week, insisting they can still end their 20-year wait to reach a major tournament.

"Form can change in a couple of weeks and this campaign is played over a year," said the under-fire manager after Tuesday's 3-0 defeat in Slovakia, which came hot on the heels of a home draw with Lithuania.

Phone-ins and social media have been dominated by calls for Strachan to go.

However, unless he falls on his sword - as he has done at club level in the past - he will still be in charge when Scotland travel to Wembley to meet England on November 11. There is a Scottish FA board meeting today but it has been scheduled for months and will not be a make or break occasion for the manager.

Mind you, there was a familiar valedictory tone after the loss in Slovakia.

"The people who I feel sorry for are the players," Strachan said. "I'm proud of them. The second group you feel sorry for are the supporters."

He expressed virtually identical sentiments when he quit Celtic in 2009, Middlesbrough in 2010 and Southampton in 2014. In this instance, though, the qualifying schedule offers a powerful reason why he should stay on, at least for the Wembley excursion.

Totemic

That is Scotland's only fixture between now and the spring. It will rouse the Tartan Army, and give Strachan a shot at redemption at a totemic venue for the Scots. Should he fail in London, there would be ample time to identify a successor before the next qualifier, at home to Slovenia on March 26.

Already, there is clamour for Strachan to start Leigh Griffiths at Wembley, based on the 40 goals the Celtic forward scored last season.

Strachan's preference has been for more physical attackers, in the form of Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher, and it is noteworthy that Brendan Rodgers has done the same at Parkhead, where Moussa Dembélé is the first choice in a 4-2-3-1 system.

The thin return from Scotland's forwards is a long-standing theme, with the yield decreasing campaign by campaign. Equally worrying is the failure to compensate with a miserly defence, with all three goals in Slovakia entirely avoidable.

Also depressing was the absence of menace at set-piece plays.

Yet, despite such a catalogue of woe, Scotland remain in contention in Group F, three points behind England and amid a clutch of three teams covered by two points.

The campaign, despite the widespread gloom, still offers opportunities for Scotland - with or without Strachan. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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