Aidan Smith: We say John McGinn, the wee man says, nah, James Morrison
There’s more … we say The Wire is the greatest TV show of all time and especially the final series set in a newspaper office occupied by the last remaining fearless seekers-of-truth anywhere. Strach, though, says don’t forget Family Guy. We say Steven Fletcher from the bench any time around now, the national team manager says Chris Martin. We say, what, the dancing fool out of Coldplay? And the man who may yet – whisper it, don’t write it in anything other than feathery-faint 9B pencil lead – bring us back from World Cup oblivion says get a grip, have you lot been paying attention, like, ever?
I jest, of course. The relationship between the Dark Blue fitba hack-pack and Gordon Strachan isn’t like that and he isn’t contrary. Honest. I mean, I thought he was showing signs, post-match on Thursday night, when Sky Sports’ Luke Shanley asked – and I paraphrase here in the style of a TV ad Strachan’s old enough to remember – “Tense? Nervous? Headache?” to which the boss replied: “Anadin? No thanks, I’m fine.” Surely, when the clock got to 89 minutes, he must have wondered where the goal was coming from. But who are we to doubt that he knew it would arrive? Who are we to question team selection, tactics, anything?
Many fans were unsure about the line-up. They thought the midfield was knocking on a bit and verging on the undynamic. They worried that Strachan might have been getting over-excited when he declared: “I have seen the future of rock ’n’ roll and its name is Barry Bannan.” (They thought the hyperbole sounded familiar but couldn’t think where they’d heard it before.) But guess what? The midfield wasn’t Xavi passes to Andres Iniesta and gets it beautifully back again, but it functioned. It ran until it couldn’t. It worked its socks off and its ears.
When the middlemen started to tire and the fans shouted “Aha! Time for McGinn, methinks!”, Strachan, with three cards left, chose to make the changes elsewhere, Darren Fletcher only being removed when his left lughole got removed. Ikechi Anya? The fans knew the manager loved him but those who saw the player’s introduction as a sentimental choice in what was potentially Strachan’s last meaningful decision in the job were soon choking on their pies.
Martin? The fans, some at least, wondered if the manager loved him in defiance of them or the sceptics in the press box. But with that crossbar-scudding shot the misunderstood striker turned from a slug into a butterfly. The deft flick to set up Morrison was him reciting the Good Book backwards on a unicycle (and I of course mean the Wee Red Book). And as for his last glorious act – has a burly footballer ever flung himself at a cross, bothering an otherwise faultless defender into sclaffing the ball into his own net, with quite as much passion and abandon to produce such a beautifully ugly goal?
This may all yet count for nothing, of course, but Strachan’s crafty conviction takes us into our second cup final tonight with potentially two more on the road to Russia to come. As, frankly, I always knew it would.