Gordon Strachan is wrapping Celtic star Stuart Armstrong in cotton wool ahead of Sunday’s must-win World Cup qualifier, because he is relying on his midfield stars to get the goals needed to gun down Slovenia.
Only one of the five forwards in Strachan’s squad started for his club at the weekend, Jordan Rhodes, who the national manager has been reluctant to play in the past.
That has led Strachan to look to the midfielders within his squad to provide the cutting edge that the Scots have often lacked, and in Armstrong, Tom Cairney and Matt Ritchie, he feels he has sufficient armoury in behind the frontman.
That is why he wasn’t tempted to ease Armstrong into action by giving him his first taste of international football against the Canadians tomorrow night at Easter Road.
“He''s playing really well at the moment,” Strachan said.
“And what you've got to look at is, if your strikers are not playing well, that's why I keep going on about this bigger striker that has evolved through Europe.
“Unless you've got a Messi or Suarez or an Aguero, then fine. But generally, there is a bit of presence around the place.
“These guys are made for a role where their teams can play varied football. What they do is bring other people into play - and other people score goals.
“So, Tom Cairney has scored a right few goals this year, Matt Ritchie has scored 13, Stuart has scored 12 I think, so there are guys in there with goals.
“People always say ‘you need to play two strikers’, but if the two strikers have only scored 12 goals between them and I’ve got two midfielders who have scored 25, what are you going to do?
“There’s more to it than shouting that you need two strikers. You don’t really need them. If your midfielders are scoring goals then that helps if you are playing with one main target man that’s not a striker.
“We have to try to see how many goals we can get into the team, and how we get everybody who is feeling good about themselves into the team.
“That’s a must, because sometimes they turn up here and they are really down the players. It’s very hard to raise your game when you’re down like that.”
When asked if he would have reservations about pitching Armstrong in for his Scotland debut in such a vital match, which he himself described as ‘must-win’, Strachan said: “Absolutely not, not at all.
“When you look at the midfield, Jeez, that’s strong that central midfield. And wide men too with [Oliver] Burke, [James] Forrest, [Ryan] Fraser, [Robert] Snodgrass, Ritchie and we had Matt Phillips there too, so we’re alright in these areas as well.”
Despite the strength in depth mentioned by Straachan, it seems as though the scintillating form of Armstrong this season will be impossible for him to ignore when he selects his starting eleven.
The Scotland manager thinks that it was the change in his position at club level that has been the catalyst for his rapid rate of improvement.
“We had him in the squad when he was at Dundee United, and then he went to Celtic and it didn’t go as well as he would have wanted it to,” Strachan said.
“He played the left side of a three and while he was doing that there was nobody clambering for him to play anywhere really.
“Now he’s moved into a position that we all thought was best for him, and Tom [Cairney] is the same. Tom played right side of a four, and because the two of them have moved inside their ability and their running power, especially with Stuart, has come to the fore now.
“Stuart has a real personality on the pitch now, so that move for him being in there has worked out amazingly.
“The manager has moved him, but you then have to take that opportunity and he’s grabbed hold of it, and Tom is just the same.”