Sunday 17 November 2019

Gordon Strachan: Charlie Mulgrew will be a huge asset against Ireland

Scotland's Charlie Mulgrew challenges Ireland's Aiden McGeady (R) during their Euro 2016 Group D qualifying soccer match at Celtic Park Stadium
Scotland's Charlie Mulgrew challenges Ireland's Aiden McGeady (R) during their Euro 2016 Group D qualifying soccer match at Celtic Park Stadium

Andy Newport

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan had no qualms about recalling Charlie Mulgrew to his squad despite the Celtic midfielder having managed just 45 minutes of action in the last five-and-a-half months.

Hamstring issues have kept Mulgrew out since early December but he made his return as a half-time substitute during Friday night's Perth stalemate with St Johnstone.

Now Strachan has thrown him straight into the group who will take on Qatar in a June 5 friendly at Easter Road before travelling to Dublin for the crucial Euro 2016 qualifier with the Republic of Ireland eight days later.

Mulgrew was a key asset when the Scots fought their way to a vital 1-0 win over Martin O'Neill's side last November and his Dark Blues boss is confident the 29-year-old will have worked off his rustiness by the time the Group D return comes along next month.

Strachan - who also handed a first ever call-up to Dundee goalkeeper Scott Bain - said: "Charlie has been back in the Celtic side and they would not have put him in if he was not right.

"He was a huge asset for us when we played the Republic last time - and I mean huge.

"I thought he had a terrific game and just having Charlie in the squad makes us stronger. Not just in midfield but in other positions too."

The biggest challenge for Scotland ahead of their Aviva Stadium date will be maintaining fitness levels until the game comes around.

Seven members of the 26-man squad who will cross the Irish Sea - David Marshall, Christophe Berra, Craig Forsyth, Gordon Greer, Ikechi Anya, Matt Richie and Johnny Russell - have already been stood down by their clubs following the completion of the English Championship campaign.

Strachan admits he will have to change his usual training methods to accommodate those who have been left idle but he insists his men will be in prime condition by the time they take on the Irish.

"This Qatar game will be great for the likes of Charlie Mulgrew and lads like Matt Ritchie whose seasons finished at the start of May," he said. "It is imperative they get games.

"But our training will involve a lot of games. Usually it's about movement and shape but to bring the boys up to speed, there will be more contact training.

"I'm glad Qatar have agreed to play us because we need games at this time of the year for certain players.

"Charlie Mulgrew has been injured for five months but the enthusiasm and adrenaline keeps you going for the first month back and we're hoping that's the case with Charlie. But I think we'll need to top the lads' fitness up a bit while they are here.

"My initial thought was about having two squads - one meeting on June 2 and the other on June 8 and we'd all get together for the Republic game. But I've asked the experienced ones and ones who are playing if they need time off and they said, 'No we're going to be here on June 2'. That's thrown me a bit because I thought we'd have 18 - instead we have 26 players."

Bain's call-up was required after Hull stopper Allan McGregor requested time off to address a long-standing injury, while strikers Stevie May, Jordan Rhodes and Ross McCormack have been left out.

That made space for Stoke midfielder Charlie Adam and Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths to rejoin the national team after lengthy spells in the wilderness, although Parkhead duo Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven were again overlooked.

But Strachan insists every member of this group should be prepared to participate fully.

He said: "Scott's has been playing well this year and our goalkeeping coach Jim Stewart has been impressed by him. He's a player not only for the future, but for now.

"I saw Charlie play recently. We all saw his wonder goal against Chelsea. But there's more to it than that.

"There's been a consistency to Charlie's performances and he has found a position at Stoke that suits him. It's been a good two months for Charlie, that's for sure.

"Leigh is also hitting form just at the right time. He'll be fresh because he didn't play too many games at the beginning of the season.

"If you remember back two years ago to when Barry Bannan was on holiday and we called him in. Then after watching him train we decided he had to go into the team that faced Croatia.

"So we set a precedent that day that you can win a place if you impress at training.

"Charlie and Leigh have been here before. If I felt they didn't have a chance of playing I would have brought in some younger guys to fill up those spaces."

PA Media

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