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Strachan puts down money on Derby as big race hoves into view

THE douce riverside setting of Craven Cottage may be the unlikeliest location for a Derby match but that is the prospect that awaits Scotland later this month.

Strachan names his team
Strachan names his team

Gordon Strachan yesterday would not be drawn on the touting of another match with England but he has plundered one of its Championship teams for the challenge match against Nigeria on May 28.

Three Derby County players could all start Scotland's final match before the deeply serious business of the European Championship qualifiers starts with a match against Germany in Dortmund on September 7. The uncapped Craig Forsyth, a left-back, and Chris Martin, a striker, join the twice-capped Craig Bryson as County's representatives in Strachan's squads.

Forsyth may be restricted to a cameo role as Andrew Robertson of Dundee United has been picked for the full squad instead of joining the under-age team but Strachan hinted strongly that both Martin and Bryson would see action in south London and perhaps beyond.

The Scotland coach has been impressed by the partnership of the strong striker and the midfielder who can run into promising positions from midfield.

"He has 20-odd goals this season and his assists are phenomenal," said Strachan of the 25-year-old Martin who qualifies for Scotland through his father. "Between him and Bryson they have scored and created some number of goals. Chris is also a big lad and gives us something a bit different. What I've noticed is that when the ball goes up to him, he knows where everyone is on the pitch. It's not like he needs three touches.

'We actually tried to get him for the last game in Poland but didn't get all the paperwork through. Because he has played Under-19 for England, he had to send a written form away to FIFA saying he wanted to be Scottish."

This bureaucracy has now been negotiated and it gives Strachan an interesting option in advance of the qualifiers.

Strachan has been encouraged by the form of his players, particularly Steven Naismith at Everton and David Marshall at Norwich City.

But he had words of praise for others. "Russell Martin has become a big player for us, he has been terrific, and [Grant] Hanley, he is the one with pace and strength, still a rough diamond," said Strachan. "Charlie Mulgrew went into midfield and was sensational. We are strong in certain aspects," he said.

Martin and Robert Snodgrass, both of Norwich, will miss the Nigeria match to recuperate from injuries but Strachan will use the occasion to fine-tune his strategy.

He has tightened Scotland up considerably and forged a side that is dangerous on the break but he accepts that his side may need to become more sophisticated to create chances at Hampden.

This ambition is compromised by Scotland's lack of a creative attacking force. Strachan cited the dearth of substantial quality in the back-up players to a lone striker. He pointed out that most top teams now play with a three behind the No.9 and these players include stellar talents such as Mesut Oezil, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.

"They are becoming the most important players in the team now. Strikers are getting less important. These three players who play behind - there are about 40 of them who play in that position in European football, and who take you on and do things. We don't have that - Shaun Maloney to a certain extent can do that," said Strachan.

His priority, though, is to come up with a plan "to move back fours around".

"You have to be a bit more proactive at home," he conceded. Martin, with his physical strength, gives him an alternative to Steven Naismith and Strachan hinted too that Leigh Griffiths, the Celtic striker, could also be used to discomfit defences. Any plans, though, will have to come together quickly. The reality of international football is that Strachan will have four training sessions before the team convenes for the trip to Germany in September.

The good news for him is that Marshall and Allan McGregor are fine goalkeepers, that the midfield is industrious and reliable if hardly creative and that Naismith and Griffiths are in goalscoring form in the top divisions in England and Scotland. The search for genius is doomed to failure but Strachan knows that consistent competence may just be enough to extricate his side from a group containing Germany, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar.

He is determined to learn something from the manoeuvres on the bank of the Thames with such veterans as Gary Caldwell of Wigan Athletic brought back into the fold. But he has also a trip to Brazil next month as part of the ITV World Cup commentary team.

"I hope to get to see Germany a couple of times live. But I am not going to scare the living daylights out of the players," he said.

He was joking. But the serious business looms.

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