Desmond Kane

What good is Boyd on Scotland’s bench?

Desmond Kane

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The gilt wore off the gingerbread some time ago, but that is hardly a reason not to feel guilty about Scotland's continuing propensity to come up short in competitive climes.

A 0-0 draw with Lithuania in the opening Euro 2012 qualifying match was hardly the Good Friday agreement the country's wistful national coach Craig Levein envisaged. Improved performance, shame about the result.

Poring over the consequences of the latest adverse outcome to besmirch the country's standing, Scotland are suddenly in a bit of a pickle at the outset of what has the potential to quickly become a regrettable campaign.

They may have been energised in Eastern Europe, but old habits die hard.

Scotland's reluctance to wallow in goals sees the Czech Republic hold the whip hand among the budding countries pursuing a play-off place behind world champions Spain in Group I.

The Czechs have yet to play a game, but were winners from the combat in Kaunas. In a group of five that also contains Liechtenstein, Scotland have gone third favourites.

Much has been made about the reasons why Scotland failed to ransack Kaunas, but the principal one was left holed up on the bench.

When Scotland needed a goal, why was Kris Boyd excluded?

For a country that bemoans a lack of natural reserves, Boyd is some sort of treasure. He is the highest goalscorer in the history of the Scottish Premier League, and was available to Scotland in Lithuania. He returned unwrapped.

It is a true source of bewilderment, certainly to this onlooker, as to why Boyd has been subjected to years of refusal.

Boyd averaged two goals every three outings for Rangers over four years and has contributed seven goals in 16 games to the national team. This is a figure who scored 26 times in 40 goals to ensure a bankrupt Rangers collected the Scottish Premier League for a second straight year before flitting to Middlesbrough during the close season.

His 164 goals with Kilmarnock and Rangers saw him overtake Celtic's Henrik Larsson as the league's most productive forward.

Unless he has ringworm, one wonders what Boyd does in training sessions ahead of matches to be shunned on such a grand scale?

Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley and now Levein, no matter how much they will argue the point, all looked elsewhere when they hankered after a goal in defining  moments.

A slavish devotion to 4-5-1 seems to be partly to blame for Boyd's downfall. The formation seems to be the international standard in football for teams hell-bent on being hard to beat.

It is argued that Boyd, 27, does not project enough movement to be effective as a lone striker. Some coaches privately comment that he does not contribute enough when not in possession, which sounds baffling coming from a fallible country hardly known for bingeing on goals. Scotland scored only three times in seven games before visiting Lithuania.

This talk of pressing the game sounds as much a mental failing of a faltering domestic product as it is a criticism of the methods of Boyd, who is viewed by some as lazy for failing to make meaningless forays. Kenny Miller gleans admiring glances for running constantly for 90 minutes, but was found wanting in the seconds that mattered in Kaunas.

Miller directed a free header straight at the home goalkeeper in the second half. It was a microcosm of wider Scottish deficiencies.

Miller spent most of the night closing down space, but ultimately chasing shadows. Miller can never be the finisher that Boyd has become. Give honest triers a round of applause, but not for a draw against a posse of Lithuanian hammer throwers.

There is no need to press the game all over the park. Strikers should probably not be seen or heard when the other team are attacking. Boyd should be left to do his work where it matters most at the other end.

Lithuania were clearly intent on extracting a draw from some way out after pummelling their visitors.

Would it have been such a risk to throw Boyd up front alongside Miller, his former partner at Rangers, in the final 20 minutes?

The much-maligned George Burley oversaw Boyd's most public exemption when Chris Iwelumo was preferred as a substitute in a 0-0 draw with Norway in a World Cup qualifier a couple of years ago.

Iwelumo missed an open goal from three yards and within an hour of the game concluding, Boyd announced he would never play for Burley again, one of several issues that undermined the previous Scotland manager's miserable tenure.

Having dealt with Levein during his time running Cowdenbeath and Hearts, one can vouch for his sound and vision, but this campaign is already in danger of getting out of hand.

Scotland have not reached a major tournament since the World Cup in 1998, but are likely to abstain from another finals if they lose to the Czechs on October 8 and at home to Spain four days later. 

Lithuania's tactics were hardly agreeable, but Levein's criticism of them was tinged with the disappointment of his own side's inadequacies. It all sounded a bit like Arsene Wenger on any given Saturday.

He may have expected more protection from a Turkish referee, but Levein was never taking his squad to a Turkish bath in Kaunas. One hopes he is not left ruing an overly cautious outlook when he sits down for Christmas dinner.

It is hardly a prescient remark to say that Scotland will overturn Liechtenstein at Hampden Park on Tuesday, but they could do with giving them a flogging before they visit the Czech Republic.

Boyd will start against Liechtenstein and should remain intact for Prague if he contributes favourably.

If not, he may be entitled to re-enact the Boyd ultimatum.

It may be horses for courses, but this epic scorer has every right to bolt the stables if Levein, like Burley, cannot accommodate him in times when the team cannot shed such awkwardness.

In uncheery moments, Boyd would hardly be unpatriotic to wonder what is the point of being with Scotland if the best he can muster is a cheerleading role.

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