Key talking points from Scotland’s draw with Slovenia

first_imgThe wait goes on. Scotland went into the final qualifier knowing exactly what was required and with the momentum of a five-match unbeaten run behind them. The highs of beating Slovakia, going toe to toe with England and rescuing a campaign that looked dead and buried a year ago all count for little in the end. Once again, Scotland fans will be watching on as world football enjoys its party and with 20 years having passed since we last competed on the biggest stage our absence will hardly be noted. Filibustering his way through TV interviews, insisting it wasn’t the time to talk about his role and then diverting the conversation with frankly bizarre comments on genetics, it was clear the question on everyone’s lips was the one he had no intention of answering.Regardless of the 60-year old’s feelings on the matter, his contract was extended to cover the World Cup 2018 campaign and a decision will have to be taken one way or the other. It might come from the manager himself, if he feels he doesn’t want to continue, or the Scottish FA may have to make the call having already given him their backing throughout two failed qualification campaigns.Usually, the parting of the ways comes after a slide and a succession of blows but recent history showed a manager who had found the right formula. Leigh Griffiths and Darren Fletcher were quick to offer their backing after the final whistle on Sunday. Scottish FA chairman Alan McRae has previously said that he wants the same man picking the team through to 2020.Strachan and the Hampden decision-makers have to, separately or together, weigh the overall upward curve of performances recently with the failure to achieve the ultimate target… twice. That’ll require some honest assessment of results and performances starting with the problems against Slovenia.Equaliser: Slovenia’s goal changed everything. SNS GroupThe winning formula that led to qualification hopes rising from the ashes was largely built around a Celtic core and the realisation that Leigh Griffiths was the nation’s best striker.Being deprived of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong ahead of the decisive double-header was a cruel blow that forced a rethink from Strachan. Callum McGregor’s eventual call-up had many expecting him to bring the dynamism from his Celtic performances into the national team but the manager’s preference for his tried and tested meant this always seemed like a stretch.A re-worked midfield got the job done against Slovakia but the quick turnaround for the decisive game in Slovenia meant a new plan was required and the starting line-up raised plenty of questions. In-form James Forrest was dropped, Chris Martin and Leigh Griffiths both started in attack and James McArthur was drafted into midfield. The 4-2-3-1 that had been the model for previous success was set aside in favour of a 4-4-2 to match up against the opposition.It started well with Griffiths’ clinical finish putting Scotland 45 minutes away from the play-offs. After the break it all fell apart. Slovenia took charge of midfield and change was needed.Strachan had talked about the players’ ability to solve problems for themselves against Slovakia but it was clear that action from the dugout was needed. Anya was lined up to replace Martin in a move intended to shore things up and provide pace on the counter while Scotland protected their lead.Before Anya took the field the lead was gone but instead of a quick reactive rethink, the change went ahead anyway. Slovenia went ahead but no further change was made until there were just 11 minutes left on the clock when Robert Snodgrass and Steven Fletcher were introduced in what looked like a last throw of the dice. McGregor and John McGinn, energetic midfielders that every fan on social media seemed keen to see introduced, remained as spectators.Snodgrass’ equaliser and a late chance for Darren Fletcher meant Strachan could talk about how close the side came and presumably feel vindicated but many felt that hesitation and the wrong choices were the team’s undoing in the end.Retiral: Fletcher may have played his last game. SNS GroupWhether Strachan continues or a new face takes charge, the team will change again when Scotland return to competitive action next year. The general look of the side has already evolved through the last campaign but several players could call time on their international careers. Scott Brown has already retired once and is unlikely to be leading the team into Euro 2020. Darren Fletcher has already said he will be considering his next move. Christophe Berra, Robert Snodgrass, Steven Fletcher and James Morrison are already the wrong side of 30 and can’t be part of long-term forward planning.A new crop could be set to further their claims for a regular spot. McGinn and McGregor are on the rise, Liam Cooper could vie for a central defensive spot and the likes of Ryan Fraser and Tom Cairney could add to their caps.Darren Fletcher was confident in his assertion that Scotland’s major finals exile will end in 2020 but the team that ends the wait may not resemble last night’s too closely. As thoughts turn from This Time to Next Time the personnel on the park will be just as important as the face in the dugout. There will be arguments about what cost Scotland a play-off place. Some will say it was the home draw with Lithuania and some will argue the last-gasp equaliser conceded to England was the most damaging blow. Having held the lead at half-time in Ljubljana and failed to see it out was reason enough to miss out on the play-offs. In an all or nothing game the players may have given their all but left without the prize the nation was willing them to take.Decision: Strachan’s contract is ending. SNS GroupIn the raw aftermath on Sunday evening, Gordon Strachan was in no mood to discuss his future. last_img

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