Andy Walker believes Steven Fletcher deserves to get the nod to lead Scotland’s attack in the crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland tomorrow night.
Debate has raged over who Gordon Strachan should select as his lone striker against the Poles as the Scots seek at least a draw in the hope of keeping their qualification dreams alive.
Cases have been made for the likes of the on-form Leigh Griffiths and Steven Naismith or even the likes of Chris Martin or Jordan Rhodes.
However, former Motherwell, Celtic and Bolton Wanderers marksman Walker reckons Fletcher provides the all-round game that Scotland will need if they are to earn a positive result against Group D’s second-placed side.
The three-times capped Scotland internationalist said: “From now until the Scottish team is announced, everyone will speculate on who should play up front.
“Steven Fletcher has been our main attacker throughout the campaign, but has come under increasing fire for recent poor displays.
“A growing number of fans would prefer a starting slot for Leigh Griffiths, Steven Naismith, Chris Martin or Jordan Rhodes.
“Apart from Naismith, every striker scored at the weekend and will consider themselves to be in good form. Even Naismith can cite his recent hat-trick against Chelsea to indicate how impressive he can be as a goal-scoring threat.
“I think it’s too easy to simply look at who is our best goalscorer right now for a starting slot.
“Given the way Scotland play under Strachan, the key to our success in our three victories so far has been in the form of our attack-minded players playing directly behind the main striker.
“The key to the vast majority of a lot of our best attacking play against strong, experienced opponents in tough venues has been the form of Steven Fletcher.
“His ability to offer a secure first touch and bring others into the game has been terrific and that’s why, despite the recent criticism of his end product and poor goal-scoring return, I’d still play him from the start.”
Walker added to Sky Sports: “Leigh Griffiths has, of course, been playing well for Celtic, scoring both at home and in Europe.
“But Scotland simply do not dominate as much of the possession in any 90 minutes the same way Celtic do. Fletcher is a better bet at holding the ball up, linking the play and being an aerial threat on the international scene.
“Defensively, we will have to be at our best. But, in a game where just one goal might make the difference, my four attacking players to start would be Steven Fletcher as the main striker with Shaun Maloney, Steven Naismith and Matt Ritchie behind him.”
Alan Stubbs has warned Hibernian will have to be patient as they await the first-team return of popular striker Farid El Alagui.
The Frenchman, who missed most of last term with a ruptured Achilles tendon, has not yet made a top-team appearance this season after undergoing minor knee surgery in the summer and then an operation to remove a pin from his ankle.
It has been a frustrating spell for the 30-year-old, who scored five times in 13 appearances or Hibs after joining last summer.
There finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel, though, for the former Falkirk and Brentford marksman after he scored in a bounce game against Dundee’s development squad last week.
He also played for 90 minutes for Hibs’ under-20s against Ross County on Tuesday night.
However, Stubbs has warned both the fans and the player not to expect too much too soon.
The head coach said: “He’s still not close yet, he’s still a good few games away.
“He’s been out a long time and to think he’s back would be the wrong thing.
“It would be the wrong thing for the fans to think, but it would be the wrong thing for Farid as well.
“He’s still, I’d say, a good few weeks away from being with the first-team.”
Falkirk manager Peter Houston and first-team coach Alan Maybury have both landed themselves in trouble with the SFA for their actions after Saturday’s controversial 3-1 defeat to Rangers.
The Bairns were left incensed by referee John McKendrick’s decision to award a free-kick against Tom Taiwo for an alleged foul on Nicky Law, with James Tavernier scoring from the set-pice to give Rangers an 81st-minute lead.
Houston, who also claimed Rangers’ management team had put pressure on the whistler at half-time, revealed afterwards that McKendrick had informed him he would be reported for a foul-mouthed rant after full-time.
The former Scotland assistant is reported to have called McKendrick a ‘sh***bag’.
However, it is Maybury who has been served with a notice of complaint from SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan for the use of ‘offensive, abusing and insulting language’ towards McKendrick.
The ex-Hearts and Hibs defender has admitted breaching disciplinary rule 203 and has accepted the offer of a one-match suspension.
Houston, meanwhile, has escaped punishment for what was said to the referee but has instead been accused of breaching rule 72 in a Falkirk TV interview by ‘criticising the decisions and performance of the match officials in such a way as to indicate bias and incompetence on their part, and which also impinged upon their character’.
He said in the interview: “It was the poorest decision I’ve seen for years; Tom Taiwo wins the ball.
“As soon as that decision went against us and they scored from it, it’s cost us the match, as simple as that.
“There was a tackle in the first minute on Craig Sibbald which in any walk of football, all over the world, is a yellow card – at least. Today, the referee didn’t deem that a tackle that merited anything else other than a foul.
“If that had been a Falkirk player I’m convinced our player would have been booked in the first minute.”
Talking of the Rangers management, he added: “They were giving (the referee) a hard time, telling the referee he had given them nothing.
“And what happens if the referee gives you nothing, it can influence them in some ways, and I think today it influenced him in a way where he gave them something he shouldn’t have given them.
“When you come here you’ve got to have strong officials and if you’ve not got strong officials that’s what can happen.”
Asked whether he thought anyone from Rangers deserved SFA action, he concluded: “It’s Ibrox we’re at, it’s the opposition, the wee diddy team that gets pulled up for things like that.”
Houston has been given until next Tuesday to respond and faces a Hampden hearing on October 29.
Donald Mackay, who worked at a school in Alness, near Inverness, made the rude gesture to a young boy earlier this year.
Mr Mackay was called to a Fitness To Teach hearing with the General Teaching Council for Scotland last month after a complaint was made about his behaviour.
He faced one charge – that on 12 February 2015 he “did stick up his middle finger to a primary aged pupil and told him to ‘spin on it”.
Mr Mackay, who worked at the school for 11 years, waived his right to a full hearing by admitting the allegation in full.
The investigating panel ruled that his fitness to teach was impaired and issued him with a Reprimand Consent Order, which will remain in place until 31 December 2015.
The hearing decision notice, posted online yesterday, states that the panel reasoned that “no harm had been caused to a child” and that there has been “no repetition” since the incident.
It also reads that Mr Mackay “has previously had a good history” in the teaching profession.
It does not explain the circumstances surrounding the incident, or whether Mr Mackay is still working at the school.
Mr Mackay’s LinkedIn profile details a wealth of teaching experience lasting over 20 years.
It states that he was a “Biology/Science teacher” at various schools in the Highlands between 1991 and 2004.
He then went on to become a behaviour support teacher at the Bridgend Education Centre, where it states that he still works.
The profile also states that he is currently working on “trying to develop a real-life based basic literacy/numerical program for the use of students in the ‘Behaviour Support’ field.”
Before becoming a teacher, he also worked as a greenkeeper at the Torvean Golf Course in Inverness, and a groundsman greenkeeper with a Highland health board.
He completed his undergraduate in History and Politics at Stirling University, and did a PGCE in Biology/General Science at Newcastle Polytechnic.
The Bridgend Education Centre and Mr Mackay were unavailable for comment.]]>
The short film shows the driver of a silver Mercedes almost causing a crash by pulling out in front of an approaching car.
The driver then adds insult to injury by literally driving in the middle of the road for several hundred metres.
The dashcam movie, posted online by website Scotland’s Worst Drivers, shows the shameless roadhog even driving on a solid white centre line as the car crests a hill.
The incident occurred on September 8 at around 2:00pm on Mearns Road in Glasgow.
The footage appears to take place in a residential area – where the limit is 30mph.
Both cars appear to be travelling within the limit – but when the Mercedes cuts in it forces the following car to slow quickly.
For ten seconds the car then drives up the middle of the road – taking up a huge portion of the oncoming lane.
Fortunately – just before coming over the crest of a hill – the car moves left leaving just enough of a gap for an oncoming car to drive through.
But even after the close call the car carries on driving down the centre of the road.
Marco Galasso uploaded the footage to Facebook and explained: “It was an old guy driving, my other half was driving our car.
“She held her hand on the horn all the way up the hill.”
Chris Crawford, who viewed the video, commented: “My grandad used to drive like that, he was blind but used the centre lines as a guide.”
Catrona Fagan Cowan added: “I would share this with the Police.
“What if they do it another day and some poor person is not so lucky?”]]>
Raith Rovers manager Ray McKinnon has issued a ‘thank you’ after fans stepped in to fund a deal to sign Scotland cap Scott Robertson.
The former Dundee and Dundee United player left Hibernian at the end of last season but returned to Scotland after ripping up his contract with FC Botosani in Romania after just a few weeks.
The 30-year-old was training with Rovers but had been told that McKinnon did not have any money left to sign him.
However, a deal was made possible when supporters Colin and Margaret Smart, of Fife-based care home operators Kingdom Homes, stepped in to provide the finance to recruit Robertson for the remainder of the campaign.
The midfielder made his debut with a 15-minute cameo in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Morton, and McKinnon is thrilled with the capture.
He said: “Listen, he’s going to be a great player for us, I can tell you that right now.
“You could see wee flashes in Saturday’s game. He’s not played or trained or done anything, and he’s given the ball away twice.
“But you can just see his power and his drive and his attitude. He’s got quality and I’m over the moon with that signing.
“It’s tremendous that there are people like Colin out there who will dig deep to help us try to take things forward at Raith Rovers.
“We are indebted to Colin and Margaret and to Kingdom Homes. If there’s anyone else who feels they too could support the club in a similar way, it’d be great if they would get in touch.”
Scotland will go into Saturday’s pivotal World Cup clash with Samoa a full six places above their opponents in the latest world rankings.
The Scots, whose qualification for the quarter-finals now rests on the encounter with Samoa, have retained the ninth spot they rose to a week ago, despite their 34-16 defeat to South Africa at the weekend.
However, Samoa now occupy their lowest-ever position since the rankings began after falling from 11th to 15th in the wake of their 26-5 loss to Pool B rivals Japan.
Another side plumbing the depths of their poorest placing since rankings began in 2003 is England, who have fallen from third spot just a fortnight ago to eighth.
It now means that should Scotland defeat Samoa and subsequently win their quarter-final to reach the semis of the World Cup they will also consign the Auld Enemy to a position outside the top-eight for the first time in rankings history.
South Africa jumped one place to fourth following their defeat of Scotland at St James’ Park on Saturday, whilst Australia have leapfrogged Wales into second following the victory over England that knocked the host nation out of the tournament.
New Zealand remain on top of the world in first place.
Meanwhile, Samoa skipper Ofisa Treviranus has been cleared to face Scotland, despite being disciplined by World Rugby for a high tackle.
The London Irish flanker has been dealt a ‘Citing Commissioner Warning’ by the independent Citing Commissioner Yves Thieffine of France following an incident in Samoa’s 26-5 loss to Japan at Stadium MK on Saturday.
Treviranus was penalised by referee Craig Joubert for a high tackle on Brave Blossoms prop Keita Inagaki but no further action was taken at the time.
The 31-year-old was retrospectively dealt with by governing body World Rugby yesterday, however, when he received a warning for ‘striking an opponent in breach of Law 10.4(e)’.
But the warning equates to only a yellow card under the World Cup’s disciplinary programme, leaving the Samoa captain free for selection for Saturday’s showdown at St James’ Park.
Gary Caldwell insists Scotland Under-21 internationalist Donald Love has ‘immense potential’ after bringing the defender to Wigan on loan from Manchester United.
The versatile right-back moved to the Latics on a temporary two-month deal on Friday and made his debut as a 70th minute substitute in Saturday’s goal-less draw with Walsall.
Love has now joined up with the Under-21 squad for the forthcoming Euro qualifying clashes with France and Iceland and former Scotland centre-half Caldwell reckons the Rochdale-born player has all the attributes to reach the top in the game.
Wigan manager Caldwell said: “He’s a young player still learning but we have had him watched and we believe he has immense potential.
“He’s quick, strong and can play in several different positions defensively.
“Let’s hope he can start realising some of that potential here.
“Injuries left a gap in the squad for a specialist right-sided defender and in that respect Donald fits the bill.
“I thought Yanic (Wildschut) and Donald were excellent when they came on.
“It was very difficult for both of them because they only arrived on Thursday night, trained for the first time on Friday, and were thrown in off the bench.
“It was a difficult circumstance for both of them, they worked hard for the team.”
Steven Pressley admits he is delighted for the chance to return to the dugout – even if it is with the Scotland Under-17s.
The former Falkirk and Coventry manager, who collected 32 Scotland caps as a player, will be a guest head coach for the Euro Under-17 qualifying matches against Macedonia, Bulgaria and Italy later this month.
Scottish FA performance director Brian McClair is keen to introduce new coaches to the set-up after Scot Gemmill moved up to take charge of the Under-19s.
Pressley has been out of work since February after he was axed at English League One side Coventry City but is thrilled to have been been enlisted by the SFA on a temporary basis.
He said: “I am very passionate about the game and I also care about the development of our young players.
“I was proud to have represented my country as a player and I am delighted to be coaching the under-17s for these forthcoming games.
“While I am out of the game at club level as a manager, this is an ideal opportunity for me to give something back to the grassroots game and I am really looking forward to helping these young players develop.”
Scotland Under-17s take on Macedonia, Bulgaria and Italy on October 21, 23 and 26 respectively.
Performance director McClair said: “Steven travelled to Romania with the Under-17s in August on an observational basis and we’re delighted to have him board as our lead coach for the European qualifying round in Bulgaria.
“It’s an opportunity for us to bring someone with a lot of experience as a player and coach into the international setup and I’m sure Steven will offer up some fresh ideas.
“He is very enthusiastic about joining us for this trip and I am confident there will be benefits for everyone involved.”]]>
Scotland striker Jordan Rhodes is reaping the benefits of his ‘outstanding’ dedication on the training pitch, according to Blackburn manager Gary Bowyer.
The Rovers marksman has been recalled to the international squad for the Euro 2016 clashes with Poland and Gibraltar after hitting a rich vein of form with the English Championship outfit.
Rhodes took his tally to seven goals in five games at the weekend with a brace in the 2-0 victory over Ipswich and will be looking for the chance to add to his 13-caps in the crucial qualifiers.
Club manager Bowyer admits the 25-year-old is a consummate professional.
He said: “He’s reaping the rewards for all the hard work he does.
“When you consider that he missed bits of the season and pre-season as well, now he’s really firing.
“It is not a shock, the amount of work that he does on the training ground on his finishing, it is outstanding.
“The team is playing well and creating chances and there is nobody better to get on the end of them.
“Rightly so he’s going to get the plaudits for two goals again. The header is a fantastic header and he’s the calmest lad on the planet when it comes to taking penalties. He’s in a very good, rich vein of form.”