Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Scotland v Northern Ireland: Old Names For New Look Scotland

International week and all eyes are on the stadium formerly known as Lansdowne Road as Scotland make their debut in the Carling Nations Cup.

Making their debut and already playing catch-up after Ireland set the early pace with a 3-0 win over Wales last night.

Ewan Murray has more on the background to the tournament on The Guardian sports blog including the travails the Irish FA have been having with ticket sales. Fewer than 20,000 were at the Aviva Stadium last night with tickets hardly flying out the door for this evening.

I like the idea of a structured competition with some local Celtic rivalry replacing the normal sea of meaningless friendlies.

But its probably fair to say that, so far, the tournament hasn’t really caught the imagination. England’s absence is hard to ignore and I’m not a huge fan of the one venue format.

Still, worth a try and worth winning the shiny new trophy* for a moral boost for Craig Levein’s squad.

Darren Fletcher’s withdrawal - credit due to the Manchester United midfielder for how rarely he’s done that over the years - gives Kenny Miller the chance to captain the squad.

It’s been quite a 2011 for Miller, what with being the biggest thing to hit Turkey since Bernard Matthews and donning the armband for the first time.

In Fletcher’s absence my own choice as captain would be Craig Gordon but with Gordon withdrawing and Allan McGregor retaining his spot in the starting line-up, Miller’s experience probably makes him the right choice with a new look side taking the field behind him.

Scotland will start:

McGregor, Hutton, S Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley, Adams, Brown, Commons, Morrison, Naismith, Miller

A new look side although no new names. The plan seems to be a 4-4-2 with Craig Levein suggesting that he’s been rethinking the defensive tactics that led him to that unforgettable 4-6-0 formation against Czech Republic.

Adam and Brown are new central midfield pairing. Adam's season has been documented to the point of saturation while Scott Brown seems to have been rediscovering a certain spark in the last few weeks.

Scotland are unlikely to replicate the tactics both have found comfort in at club level though so it will be interesting to see how they cope.

Levein has spoken about this being an inexperienced side. But every player is already an international and none are exactly untested youngsters.

I have to admit that a central defensive pairing of Steven Caldwell and Christophe Berra doesn’t inspire me. But the only other options in the squad are Danny Wilson and Grant Hanley, neither of whom has played much first team football.

But the risk averse Levein has picked, albeit in a different formation, the most experienced squad at his disposal.

If the midfield doesn’t click and the centre of defence is left exposed we could have a few tricky moments.

Better to be optimistic and predict that we take the game by the scruff of the neck with an emphatic display of our attacking intent.

Well, maybe not.

Northern Ireland have been hit by a succession of withdrawals but the home based Scots could be facing some familiar foes with seven SPL players in Nigel Worthington’s squad.

Craig Levein is going to be hugely disappointed with anything but a win from this one.

If the midfield can find an immediate understanding I think we should be OK. Maybe that’s a big “if.” But I’ll back Scotland to win 3-1.

* The inspiration for the trophy was Dublin's Aviva Stadium, which will play host to the Carling Nations Cup tournament, between Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The trophy is silver plated, incorporating four coloured rods representing the four teams with the names of the countries engraved around the centre band.


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