Scotland v England International Friendly Preview
Gordon Strachan's proud Scottish side will be looking forward to a renewal of acquaintances with the 'Old Enemy', England tonight at Celtic Park. The two countries have played each other 111 times in total (England leading on 46 wins to Scotland's 41), which as such represents a record for an international fixture, and as the first game between them was way back in 1872, it is also the oldest match-up historically. However, with the British Home Championship last being played in 1984 that allowed the footballing Home Nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to annually gauge themselves against each other, the opportunities to gain bragging rights over those south of the border have been limited in recent years.
The two countries did take the chance to play each other last year at Wembley, a game that despite the Scots leading their bitter rivals twice was ultimately settled by a late Rickie Lambert goal in a 3-2 English win. Many Scots will not have witnessed a victory over their old foes at home, and given that it was over 29 years since that last happened may feel that their time has come to put that statistic right. That game was played in the old Rous Cup when the Scots edged a tight game 1-0. They have beaten England since at Wembley though, a goal that former Liverpool player Don Hutchison fondly remembers scoring in a 1-0 victory in an Euro 2000 qualifier.
The Scots (like England) seem likely to rest some of the players who took part in their European Championship qualifier victory against the Republic of Ireland last week, with the likes of goalkeeper Craig Gordon and Darren Fletcher (if he has recovered from the illness that meant he missed training on Monday) expected to feature in the team over the ninety minutes.
Strachan will be mindful of just using the game as a training exercise though as a win would increase his stature in the eyes of the Scottish fans, although the fresh impetus he has instilled in the side is already going a long way to achieving that.
England will also look to freshen up their line-up after their 3-1 win over Slovenia at the weekend. First choice goalkeeper Joe Hart has already been told that he will not be involved by Roy Hodgson, so former Celtic keeper (now at Southampton), Fraser Forster may get a chance to witness being on the 'other side' for once of the Glaswegian roar. Ben Foster is the other option and given how few opportunities the keepers have had to get game time through Hodgson's commitment to Hart in recent times, both could potentially play during the game at some point in time. Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain was pushing for the start at the weekend, so seems likely to start after his substitute appearance then. Saido Berahino and Ross Barkley should also get some time on the pitch, perhaps as subs though, in what should be a good "toughening" experience for them to see how they cope in what many expect to be quite a hostile atmosphere despite the "friendly" tag.
Time on the pitch for Arsenal's Theo Walcott would probably be welcomed by Arsene Wenger after his long lay off through injury. Stewart Downing of West Ham is another who would deserve his chance after an encouraging start to the new domestic season in England, and it would be a surprise if having selected him again he does not get to play.
With six substitutions allowed for both sides, there seems plenty of scope to get a look at their so called "squad players". Both Strachan and especially Hodgson may look to the match as a pointer to their players' mental toughness as much as to their footballing ability.
Hodgson has already lost Michael Carrick, Andros Townsend and Leighton Baines to injury. It would be a bit of a surprise if captain Wayne Rooney does not start as he chases the goals he needs to overhaul the only men now above him in the all-time England goalscoring record books, Gary Lineker and the great Bobby Charlton. However, he will not get the full game to further his 44- goal haul as Hodgson will look to try out other options off the bench as the game goes on in the second half.