The Herald on Sunday
Different approach may land McLaren top job permanently
Robertson, Westrup, Eddie and Grimshaw will forever be grateful to the caretaker for awarding them first caps
ASECOND 1-0 friendly win in five days brought the curtain down on Stuart McLaren’s four-game (and four-month) stint as Scotland interim head coach. Will it have been enough for the Scottish FA to give him the job permanently?
As mentioned last week, McLaren deserves credit for his pro-active, and different, approach to the role. By my count he gave game time to a scarcely believable 30 players during the four matches.
Only Caroline Weir, Claire Emslie and Lucy Graham played in every one.
Lisa Robertson, Brianna Westrup, Leah Eddie and Christy Grimshaw will forever be grateful to the caretaker for awarding them first caps. Several longstanding squad members whose visits to foreign countries outnumber their Scotland starts will also have been thankful for opportunities.
McLaren added to this by astutely recruiting Bristol City head coach Tanya Oxtoby, who is on maternity leave from her club, to his back-room staff for the two friendlies. But taking into account all the sweeping changes, how did his selections perform in the four games?
The first, against a poor Cyprus side, was in many ways the most encouraging. Low-key first-half performances were a trademark under Shelley Kerr, but a high tempo was struck from the off in Larnaca and the 10-0 win a fitting reward for a vibrant display.
There was a very positive start, too, in McLaren’s second game five days later, the final Euro qualifier against Portugal. The opening quarter again produced a faster, more direct, style of play, but when the group third seeds were gifted a goal, the Scotland performance dipped and a soft second goal was conceded near the end.
The result made it four defeats from the four qualifiers against Portugal and Finland, with no goals scored.
McLaren fielded a largely second string side for his third game against a similarlyplaced Northern Ireland 10 nights ago. Not too many took advantage of a rare chance to impress, and it needed substitute Weir’s late penalty to eke out a win.
The last game, against Wales in Llanelli on Tuesday, was the only one with Weir, Erin Cuthbert and Kim Little in the same side under McLaren. Chelsea’s Cuthbert was the match winner, taking advantage of a bad error by Wales goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan to score the game’s only goal.
Cuthbert also came close late in the first half with a tremendous strike which rattled back off the bar, but it was a rare threatening move by Scotland. The match statistics confirm that Wales had more attempts on target and more chances overall despite only having 36 per cent of the possession.
McLaren’s three games against credible – but all lower-ranked – sides produced just a solitary goal from open play, and even that was gift from the opposition.
It is not, of course, the interim head coach’s fault that he inherited a squad which lacks a proven goalscorer who is playing week-in, week-out for her club. Cuthbert is a stop-gap option up front, but it’s not a position which is ever going to get the best out of the side’s talismanic player.
While the performances against Northern Ireland and Wales didn’t hit the button, the games were, in fairness, friendlies played at the end of a difficult season. Two wins, however achieved, ended the four-game run on an upbeat note.
The wins may also be enough for the SFA to end the inexcusable six-month wait for a new head coach by promoting their own employee into the post. Having spoken to players and read their messages on social media, they appear to have appreciated the inclusive approach of the 45-yearold, who, like Oxtoby, has a background in Australian sport and football.
Words like “refreshing” and “positive” may also reflect how the mood in the camp was latterly under the previous regime. Adding credence to his own bid by bringing in the Bristol City head coach, who has far more experience of women’s football, could swing it for McLaren.
AND ANOTHER THING
THE hectic Scottish Building Society SWPL2 schedule continues this afternoon. Game of the day is at Cormack Park where leaders Aberdeen host thirdplace Hamilton.
Accies’ promotion hopes suffered a setback last Sunday when they were beaten 1-0 by St Johnstone. They did, however, bounce back with a midweek 4-2 win against promotion rivals Partick Thistle.
Such results continue to benefit Aberdeen, who have won 12 of their 13 games. Five points from the remaining five will guarantee promotion – with seven winning the title as well.