BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL McCANN reckons embattled Scotland boss Gordon Strachan may regret snubbing Leigh Griffiths against Slovakia – and insists the Celtic striker must start against England at Wembley.
Griffiths, fresh from his 40-goal haul last term, has already found the net eight times this season, but has been consistently overlooked for a starting berth by national boss Strachan.
Chris Martin was selected to lead the line against Malta and Lithuania before Steven Fletcher was chosen to start in Tuesday’s miserable 3-0 defeat in Trnava.
Griffiths was pitched into action with 25 minutes to play and, within seconds of his introduction, flashed a shot narrowly wide of the post – and McCann believes the cameo will have given Strachan food for thought.
McCann said: “I think Gordon [Strachan] will question himself. I didn’t think Chris Martin was outstanding against Lithuania and I felt Steven Fletcher was a bigger threat than him – but, for me, Leigh Griffiths is a bigger threat than both.
“That is one that Gordon with think back on and think ‘maybe I should have gone with him’. I think he should have and he should start at Wembley. He is our biggest threat.
“Griffiths came on and showed an enthusiasm and natural movement that gives teams problems. Against this Slovakian defence, who were disjointed and all over the place, he found gaps and pulled away from people.
“He finds gaps and never stands next to people. He can handle physical contact but doesn’t want it – instead, he looks for space, and that is something defenders are frightened of. They don’t want someone running off their shoulder.
“He showed enough in the time he was on the pitch to suggest he has enough to cause teams real problems at this level.”
McCann, who claimed 26 caps for the national side, has also questioned the absence of Scotland’s most expensive footballer, Oliver Burke.
Red Bull Liepzig’s £13 million man went from the starting line-up against Lithuania on Saturday to being dropped from the squad in Trnava altogether.
McCann continued: “I was surprised [with Burke’s omission]. I didn’t think Oliver Burke had a bad game against Lithuania, he ran into people a couple of times but was starting to find his feet.
“I found it strange that he was then put right out of the side. Gordon said he had pace in James Forrest and [Ikechi] Anya so he didn’t require Burke, but I believe that he should have been involved among the stripped players.”
Despite a miserable return of one point from the fixtures against Lithuania and Slovakia, McCann believes the topsy-turvy nature of the section, allied by the managerial woes of England, mean Scotland are not dead and buried.
He was part of the side which claimed a 1-0 win at Wembley in the Euro 2000 playoff second leg in 1999 – albeit it was not enough to win the tie – and, with just three points separating the home nation rivals, he says a similar result can kick-start Scotland’s bid to reach Russia 2018.
The former Hearts and Rangers winger told Sky Sports: “One-hundred per cent we can go to Wembley and win. England might not like it but of course we can do it.
“England scored a last ditch winner against 10-man Slovakia, they’ve didn’t win [against Slovenia] and they’ve scored two against Malta. England are the best side in the group in my opinion but they’re not firing.
“They’ve got managerial problems. The selection problems might just have a little negative influence in the camp.
“When we went to Wembley in ’99, we had just been beaten at Hampden – the Paul Scholes game – and no-one gave us any hope of going down there and winning. But we won that battle.
“We didn’t win the war – it wasn’t enough – but if David Seaman hadn’t made a terrific save [from Christian Dailly] it could have been a very different story.
“We can go to Wembley and we can win that game of football without a doubt – but we have to play at a top level. If we do, we’re right in it again. Gordon will be sitting back and thinking ‘this is the only positive from this week.’”