Gordon Smith: Celtic’s Callum McGregor should be a first-choice pick for Scotland

Callum McGregor in action for Scotland (SNS Group / Craig Foy)
Callum McGregor in action for Scotland (SNS Group / Craig Foy)

I HAVE to admit that whether Scotland won or lost their friendly against Holland on Thursday night didn’t concern me too much.

Of more interest was how the whole range of changes made by interim manager, Malky Mackay, would play out.

This was essentially a trial team, put together by a man who got the surprise of hearing he wasn’t in the running for the job on a permanent basis via a radio interview made by chief executive Stewart Regan a few hours before the game.

I didn’t agree with that, especially as Malky had no idea what was coming his way.

He had, he insisted, focused on getting a team on the pitch, one which contained some bold selections.

Malky essentially played six of the side – Ryan Jack, Kieran Tierney, Christophe Berra, Kenny McLean, Ryan Christie and Matt Phillips – out of position.

Some of them had just a small change to deal with – McLean was deeper than he is used to, Christie was out wider.

For some – Jack, for example, who was moved from midfield to right-back – it was a big switch.

Remarkably, too, we had a team containing eight left-footed players!

It was interesting and, overall, I thought Scotland delivered a decent performance.

The Dutch goal should definitely have been disallowed for offside, and we created plenty of chances throughout the match.

So, of the new arrivals we had a look at, who did enough to convince me they can be part of our push to reach Euro 2020 – and who did not?

Ryan Jack – Right back has been an issue for Scotland, so it was pleasing Ryan turned in a very good performance in the role. Callum Paterson, now free from injury and in the Cardiff City team, is another option. But I definitely see Jack being involved regularly, going forward.

Callum McGregor – Has had to wait a long time for his first cap, so it was a shame he was partially to blame for the only goal. He was good otherwise, and he is a player I like a lot. With his technique, he should be a first-choice pick for Scotland.

Kenny McLean – Given how much Kenny likes attacking, it was no surprise to see him look less comfortable used in a more- defensive position – a holding midfielder role in front of the defence. Not his best display and, while I wouldn’t judge him too harshly because of the positional change, the jury is probably out on him as Scotland regular.

Ryan Christie – Was praised for the intelligence, as well as the quality, of his play after the match by Malky Mackay and I would echo those sentiments. He’s liable to be even better used as a No. 10 behind the strikers. I think he is an excellent prospect, if one for a little further into the future than some of the others.

Ryan Fraser – Hard to judge on his brief run-out off the substitutes’ bench, but he did show flashes of real skill on debut, most notably when darting forward and having a shot on goal. Fringe possibilities.

Jason Cummings – Where Jason has an advantage over several of the new faces is that we have a real shortage of quality strikers. Leigh Griffiths, who was out injured, is one but time may be running out for Steven Fletcher and Chris Martin. That said, I am not sure Jason has done enough at club level to merit a Scotland place.

Graeme Shinnie – Very unlucky not to get capped here. I have a feeling the Aberdeen midfielder’s versatility and dependability will see him back again before too long.

In conclusion, then, this might not have been the most-gripping spectacle but there was a bit to be positive about.

In particular, I liked the energy of this side which was, I am sure, aided by the number of young players we had out there.

John McGinn, more a regular now than a new face, sums up what I am talking about.

It was hard to fathom why Gordon Strachan would overlook him at times when he was playing so well for Hibs at club level.

He never stops running, he uses the ball well and, at 23 years old, he is still a developing talent.

Whoever comes in to take the job will be more than grateful to have his like at their disposal.

Time will tell on that score – and don’t rule out Alex McLeish.

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