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Spiers on Sport: lift-off (sort of) for Strachan’s Scotland

The Gordon Strachan era is under way for Scotland.

A 1-0 win over Estonia at Pittodrie set no fires alight, though the Tartan Army and a world-weary Scottish football press might have felt their battered spirits being lifted.

A new man is in charge, yet another new Scotland chapter is in store, and a Charlie Mulgrew goal at least ensured no opening night setbacks for Strachan.

It was decent, energetic, fairly solid from Scotland. If this stodgy-sounding critique sounds like damning with faint praise, it is because little else can be said of such slender wins over modest opponents.

Strachan was a popular appointment who has it all to do ahead of him. He also has the solace – maybe even the cushion – of knowing that this Scotland job has defeated a growing regiment of men. Few have any illusions about the task at hand.

There was nothing radical about what Scotland did under Strachan at Pittodrie. The new manager played a 4-4-1-1 shape – hardly innovative – but Strachan ticked the two key boxes on his opening night: he got a result and a decent enough performance.

Yet Strachan’s biggest challenge, I believe, will be in applying his own attitude to coaching to this new job with Scotland.

He sees himself as a “hands on” coach whose main attributes are on the training field. Yet international football management hardly caters for that; instead it is about wider judgements and strategies, with only fleeting hours to be with your players as a coach.

How will Strachan take to this? Scotland’s results will provide the clearest answer to that.

Scotland hardly created a plentiful supply of chances against Estonia, and Strachan, while selecting Steven Fletcher, basically played the Sunderland player as a lone striker, with Shaun Maloney and Steven Naismith aiding Fletcher as opposed to partnering him.

In this context, critics of Craig Levein take note…plus ca change.

All being well, this is a four-year project for Strachan, taking us up to the summer of 2016 and, it is to be hoped, Scotland’s first appearance in an international finals in 18 years.

That summer’s Euro finals in France will be the first to host 24 competing finalists – a 50 percent increase on the current format – which immediately makes Strachan a luckier Scotland manager than most of recent times. By simple arithmetic, he has a greater chance of getting there.

I feel positive about Strachan’s appointment as Scotland manager – I’m just not enthusing about it in the way of some that I’ve come across. He is a trustworthy coach who has had success (as well as failure) in football management.

Strachan thoroughly merited getting this job. Let’s just see how successful he is in blending Scotland’s good players with our more moderate ones.

The Scotland manager gave a hint of the job at hand prior to last night’s match. “This squad is probably not the one that will be here in two years’ time,” he said, knowing that evolution will play its part.

Nonetheless, in players like Allan McGregor, Charlie Adam, James Forrest, Steven Naismith, Steven Fletcher, Jordan Rhodes, Robert Snodgrass, Jamie Mackie and others, Strachan should have a corps of players who, in terms of their age, should stay with him over the course.

What the new manager will surely want to do over the next 12 months is find and blood a decent young centre-back, upon whom he can build a half-decent defence.

Current stalwarts such as Gary Caldwell, Andy Webster and others will soon be on the wrong side of 30, while too little is yet known in Scotland colours of Grant Hanley and Russell Martin.

If Strachan can find and mould a new and able central defender – perhaps from Hanley, Martin or even Gary MacKenzie – then his chances will seem a lot more enhanced.

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