Forrest return and Ritchie call suggest Scotland have strong width
Scotland, 11/10 with Coral to qualify for Euro 2016, have included Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie in their squad to face fellow Home Nation Northern Ireland in a friendly and the competitive clash with Gibraltar.
This maiden international inclusion for former Portsmouth and Swindon Town player Ritchie, 25, comes after Dean Court clubmate Harry Arter was selected for senior duty with the Republic of Ireland by Martin O’Neill.
Gordon Strachan has followed suit in seeing homegrown talent nurtured at the Cherries by Eddie Howe, and now has plenty of cover out wide for long-term injury absentee Robert Snodgrass.
The Tartan Army will also be buoyed by Celtic wingman James Forrest’s return to fitness. He is recalled to the Scotland set-up alongside in-demand Blackburn Rovers frontman Jordan Rhodes and Fulham’s Ross McCormack.
Attacking options, be they central or for the flanks, are now plentiful for Strachan’s Scotland. Ritchie, who has 11 Championship goals and a dozen assists this term, adds a guileful alternative to pacy pair Ikechi Anya and Forrest, and may be a long-term successor to Shaun Maloney, now 32 and playing for MLS franchise Chicago Fire.
Strachan can also call on versatile attackers Steven Naismith and Johnny Russell, who offer endeavour wherever they are deployed. Scotland are missing injured trio Grant Hanley, Chris Martin and Charlie Mulgrew, while box-to-box midfielder Craig Bryson has been dropped after losing his place in Derby County’s XI having failed to replicate his sensational scoring form from last term.
There is no place for Burnley winger George Boyd, however, despite his five Premier League strikes, including a sensational winner against champions Manchester City, supplementing Danny Ings’ scoring exploits at Turf Moor.
Scotland squad to face Northern Ireland and Gibraltar:
Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon (Celtic), David Marshall (Cardiff City), Allan McGregor (Hull City)
Defenders: Christophe Berra (Ipswich Town), Craig Forsyth (Derby County), Gordon Greer (Brighton and Hove Albion), Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker (both Norwich City), Mark Reynolds (Aberdeen), Andy Robertson (Hull)
Midfielders: Barry Bannan (Bolton Wanderers), Scott Brown (Celtic), Darren Fletcher (West Bromwich Albion), Shaun Maloney (Chicago Fire), James McArthur (Crystal Palace), James Morrison (West Bromwich Albion)
Wingers: Ikechi Anya (Watford), James Forrest (Celtic), Matt Ritchie (Bournemouth), Johnny Russell (Derby)
Forwards: Steven Fletcher (Sunderland), Stevie May (Sheffield Wednesday), Ross McCormack (Fulham), Steven Naismith (Everton), Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn Rovers).