Is the Scot­land man­ager al­ready on bor­rowed time?

Evening Times - - SPORT -

His­tory tells us the fre­quency of call-offs is of­ten a di­rect in­di­ca­tor of un­rest within the camp

WAD­ING through the wreck­age of Scot­land’s dis­play against Is­rael on Thurs­day night risks leav­ing any mem­ber of the Tar­tan Army with PTSD. There is no choice though but to hold our noses and trawl through the slag-heap if we are to learn from what went wrong, and at least glean some­thing from a night down there with any of the garbage that Scot­land have served up over the years on their trav­els.

The de­feats in Ge­or­gia. The draw in the Faroes. The 4-0 thump­ing from Wales un­der Berti Vogts. The night Gary Ken­neth went up against Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic. La­mentably, we have an­other night­mare to file away un­der F for, well, let’s say fail­ure.

Our UEFA Na­tions League group is still sal­vage­able, but that has more to do with the poor qual­ity of our op­po­si­tion than it does with any progress be­ing made by our brave boys. It would be the eas­i­est thing in the world to fil­let Alex McLeish, and while I dis­agreed with his ap­point­ment, I can’t see what is to be gained from an­other at­tack on the man­ager. The prob­lem is, af­ter 10 matches, it is get­ting hard to de­fend him or his tac­tics.

The ex­per­i­men­tal phase of his ten­ure, where grace was rightly given as he tried out play­ers and sys­tems, is over.

The 3-5-2 that he has plumped for from that process might have got­ten us a re­sult against Al­ba­nia at Ham­p­den, but it was clear from around the five-minute mark in Is­rael that it wasn’t work­ing. The mid­field were be­ing over­run and Scot­land were ex­posed on the wings, but it wasn’t un­til we were pegged back level in the sec­ond half lost John Sout­tar to a red card that McLeish changed to a 4-4-1.

There are wider is­sues with the for­ma­tion too. It has been de­signed to ac­com­mo­date Scot­land’s two best play­ers, Andy Robert­son and Kieran Tier­ney into the team. But as Robert­son pointed out af­ter the game, it leaves nei­ther play­ing in their pre­ferred po­si­tion.

Robert­son hasn’t looked com­fort­able play­ing on his own up the left, and Tier­ney toiled at left cen­tre-back. By try­ing to shoe­horn two square pegs into round holes, McLeish is cur­rently get­ting the best from nei­ther player. Surely it would be more ben­e­fi­cial to have at least one of our qual­ity left­backs play­ing at left-back?

There are a cou­ple of ways this could be achieved. Tier­ney doesn’t want to play at right­back, so you could ei­ther have the Celtic man in his nat­u­ral po­si­tion in a flat back four with Robert­son play­ing on one, or you make the call that as Robert­son is prob­a­bly the more ac­com­plished left-back, ei­ther Tier­ney moves to ac­com­mo­date the skip­per, or he drops out. My pref­er­ence would be op­tion one, but op­tion two is still bet­ter than the cur­rent fudge.

The ques­tions over team se­lec­tion have to be ad­dressed else­where too, with the for­ma­tion dic­tat­ing that form play­ers such as Ryan Fraser or even James Forrest can’t get into the team at all. Or in the case of Cardiff City’s Calum Pater­son, the squad. Even more con­cern­ing would be if McLeish sim­ply judges the value of hav­ing Kevin McDon­ald in his team above that of some of the en­forced ab­sen­tees.

The ab­sence of Fraser and oth­ers, most no­tably Leigh Grif­fiths, hints at deeper prob­lems than just the for­ma­tion.

What­ever your take on the rights and wrongs of the Grif­fiths call-off, his­tory tells us that the fre­quency of calloffs is of­ten a di­rect in­di­ca­tor of un­rest within the camp.

What­ever way you slice it, McLeish has to turn around per­cep­tions and per­for­mances fast. He has been fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle from day one with a pub­lic who weren’t ex­actly en­thused by his ap­point­ment.

It is early to be call­ing for his head, but at the same time, there is no way Scot­land can risk jeop­ar­dis­ing what is a golden ticket to a play-off for Euro 2020.

Anger stems from fans see­ing a group of play­ers re­duced to less than the sum of their parts by the way they are be­ing set up. Get­ting bums on seats is per­haps the cur­rency that the SFA value most, and if McLeish can’t do that – and soon – his sec­ond spell in charge of his coun­try may be even briefer than his first.

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