Scotland v Slovakia preview: Barry Bannan in contention for crucial World Cup Qualifier
Last Updated: 05/10/17 6:34pm
Gordon Strachan may start Barry Bannan for Scotland's crucial World Cup Qualifier against Slovakia on Thursday, live on Sky Sports Main Event from 6.55pm.
The Scots must win their final two qualifiers to give themselves a chance of reaching next year's tournament in Russia, starting with the visit of Slovakia to Hampden Park.
Leigh Griffiths is expected to lead the attack but Strachan has a headache in midfield, with Stuart Armstrong and Scott Brown both missing through injury.
The Scotland boss has options including Callum McGregor and John McGinn but has hinted at a start for Sheffield Wednesday's Bannan.
"You talk about McGregor and McGinn but the best performance I've seen over the last three or four weeks is Barry Bannan's so he's definitely at the forefront of what we're trying to do," Strachan said.
"The [Leigh Griffiths] that played against Croatia up front when we won 1-0, a fantastic result four years ago or something like that, he's completely different person.
"Knows the game far better, fitter, stronger. He's just become an all-round better player. That's all down to him. At this moment, he's number one for the national side and he's done that all himself."
Newcastle midfielder Matt Ritchie withdrew from the Scotland squad on Sunday with a slight knock and will not be available, with Celtic duo Brown (hamstring) and Armstrong (calf) also injured.
Their club-mate McGregor has been called up to the senior squad as a replacement for the pair, with Darren Fletcher and Steven Fletcher also back in the Scotland fold.
Slovakia are without defender Milan Skriniar (suspended) and Michal Duris (injured) for the trip to Hampden Park.
This will be only the second meeting between the two sides in any capacity, and the first hosted in Scotland - Slovakia won the only other game 3-0 earlier in this 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Scotland are unbeaten in their last five World Cup Qualifiers at home (W3 D2), and have scored at least one goal in seven of their last eight.
Leigh Griffiths has been involved in six goals in his last three internationals for Scotland (three goals, three assists).
Seventy-one per cent (10/14) of Scotland's goals in World Cup 2018 Qualifiers have been scored in the second half, with five of these coming no earlier than the 84th minute.
Adam Nemec has scored or assisted more goals in 2018 World Cup Qualifiers than any other Slovakia player (three goals, three assists).
Charlie Nicholas predicts
Scotland have gathered a little bit of belief with their last two wins. It was never a 3-0 performance in Lithuania but we'll take anything we can get.
This is the ultimate head to head as we will be done if we lose this. Gordon Strachan played an adventurous team in Lithuania but it's a concern we've played with more freedom only when underdogs.
Leigh Griffiths may be no Kane but he's our main man again and he's started to score some important goals, so a lot of faith will be placed in him.
I think this will be a dramatic one and I'm fearing it will be late heartbreak again, but there will be no complaints from me if we really have a go.
The head-to-head record is not going to be overturned here after losing 3-0 in Slovakia but - and I'm letting my heart rule my head - I'm going for the victory that gives us a real chance of making the World Cup.
Charlie predicts: 2-1 and Griffiths to score first (25/1 with Sky Bet)