THERE have been occasions during the last few years when it has seemed as if James Forrest could lose a limb and still be selected to start out wide for Scotland.
The Celtic winger is a huge favourite of national manager Gordon Strachan and has invariably - even if his performances at club level have, as has frequently been the case, left much to be desired – been given the nod for important games.
The same, however, has certainly not been true of his team mate Stuart Armstrong despite the growing number of admirers the cultured midfielder has gained both in the media and among the support.
Armstrong is, remarkably given some of the inferior players to have featured regularly for their country in the past, still uncapped at the grand old age of 24.
That, though, will surely change in the coming days given the run of form he has been enjoying this season and which continued yesterday in a 2-1 win over Dundee at Dens Park that took his side to the brink of their sixth consecutive title.
Strachan needs another midfielder like Prince William needs some time away from the wife and kids with the lads to cut loose and let his hair (or at least what is left of it) down.
Even with Matt Phillips being ruled out injured and James Morrison a serious doubt, he is well placed for players in that area. Barry Bannan, Scott Brown, Darren Fletcher, James McArthur, John McGinn and Charlie Mulgrew have all featured there and performed well in the past.
However, this outing on Tayside has increased the likelihood of Armstrong starting in the centre of the park for his country. His sublime glancing header early in the second half, which ultimately secured the slenderest of victories, was just the highlight of another accomplished display.
His goal took his tally for the 2016/17 campaign to 12. It is the regularity with which he finds the net, despite his many other attributes, which sets him apart from the other players in his position ahead of the Russia 2018 qualifier against Slovenia on Sunday.
Scoring goals from open play has been something that Scotland have struggled to do in the past and in this campaign. They have managed it just once, a late equaliser in the miserable 1-1 draw against Lithuania, in their last three games.
Giving Armstrong a run-out in a Group F game at Hampden that Strachan has admitted his charges must win, both to keep alive their own chances of reaching the World Cup finals next year and to keep him in a job, would increase the threat posed up front.
The player himself was typically guarded about his prospects of finally featuring. However, he did admit that he was better placed to cope with the demands of international football now than he was when he was first called up in 2013 or when he was recalled in 2015.
“I don’t think it is for me to decide,” he said. “But European football has helped my development. Playing Champions League against top quality players was a great experience. You learn a lot from big occasions like that as well as playing in finals. It is definitely only going to stand you in good stead.
“I think I am a little bit older now and a little bit more experienced, especially with the Champions League experience and the pressures of that and accepting the pressures of winning every week with Celtic and being happy with that. So it has definitely been a learning season this season. I am probably in the best position I have been in in terms of experience in terms of my career.”
Forrest, too, will have done his prospects of featuring for Scotland against Slovenia no harm with his contribution for Celtic against Dundee. He set up both the visitors’ goals. Given that he only returned from injury seven days previously his showing was impressive.
His admirable tenacity enabled him to shrug off Cameron Kerr in the opposition area just before half-time. He then flicked the ball back to Jozo Simunovic whose shot deflected off the back of Kevin Gomis and into the net. It was his cross which Armstrong rose to meet seven minutes into the second half.
Faissal El-Bakhtaoui pulled one back for the home team just a minute after replacing Henrik Ojamaa when he netted a screamer. The French Moroccan striker charged upfield before unleashing a powerful long-range shot which flew beyond the outstretched Craig Gordon and into the top right corner.
Paul Hartley, the Dundee manager, is hoping the former Dunfermline player can weigh in with more goals like it in the coming weeks as his team attempts to secure a top six place.
"That shows what he can do, but he needs to do it more often,” he said. “That's been his problem this season, he's been inconsistent. We knew it would be a step up for him because he's jumped two leagues and we had to stay patient. So it's been a slow process. But we know the ability and quality that he does have.
"We have four games before the split, 12 points to play for, and we will have a go. If we get to the top six, then great. If not, it's about making sure we are safe and secure for next year.”
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