New Scotland boss George Burley was today promising changes ahead of his international managerial debut against Croatia next month – opening the way for Canary keeper David Marshall to cement his place in Burley's World Cup plans.
Marshall, 22, has been back in Scotland for the last 48-hours as the former Town boss hosts his first training camp since succeeding Alex McLeish at the Scotland helm.
Last night and the whole party sat down to watch highlights of Scotland's previous World Cup triumphs as Burley looks to build on last autumn's Euro2008 qualifying campaign and take the Tartan Army to the 2010 finals in South Africa.
That campaign kicks off in September with their Group Nine opener against Macedonia. Before that, however, the Portman Road legend – now with Lowestoft's Terry Butcher by his side as his new No2 – kicks off his Scottish managerial reign with a friendly against Croatia at Hampden Park next month.
“There will be changes for Croatia,” Burley told The Daily Record. “I need time to assess things and look at how we move on. We have some older players and I must decide if they're going to take us to the finals.”
Foremost in his mind was 37-year-old centre-half David Weir, but right at the back of his team another interesting decision will have to be made between City's in-form No1 and Sunderland's ?9 million keeper, Craig Gordon.
That particular price tag appears, from a distance, to have weighed heavily on the 25-year-old's shoulders at the Stadium Of Light this season. He even dropped out of Roy Keane's thinking altogether for a spell as ex-Canary stopper Darren Ward enjoyed a brief spell back in the limelight.
Back in Norfolk and Marshall's growing stature can be measured in one fascinating fact – for all their trials and tribulations at the very foot of the Championship table, the Roeder revival now finds Norwich boasting a better defensive record than the top four teams in the division.
Leaders West Bromwich Albion have conceded 38 goals thus far this season; Watford, Bristol City and Stoke City have all shipped in 37 goals. Sat back in 13th place after their third straight clean sheet in the 1-0 win over Preston North End, and Norwich have now conceded only 35 goals this season.
Someone, somewhere must be doing something right. For all the fingers that have been pointed at the Doherty-Shackell combination, those two have much to be proud of late. Simply having the commanding presence of Marshall behind them may explain much.
The former Celtic starlet bagged another crucial save for his growing collection with that stand-up block to deny Brett Ormerod in the dying minutes of Saturday's Carrow Road clash.
While many already figure that a tide of emotion will carry Dion Dublin to the Player of the Season gong at the end of this season, Marshall won't be far behind the 38-year-old.
Given Burley's rich knowledge of the Championship – and the questions he was posing in front of the Scottish Press yesterday – you can't help but feel that Marshall's ?1 million switch to Norfolk last summer was the best move he ever made. Out from beneath Artur Boruc's shadow at Parkhead, the Canary No1 is blossoming just as Gordon is starting to wobble.
“Are they playing on a regular basis? Are they on top of their form?” asked Burley, with Marshall clearly ticking both boxes.
“There are a lot of young players pushing for a call-up, but the timing is important. There will be one or two changes, but not major changes,” he added.
Burley certainly had Scottish hearts missing a beat yesterday as the group gathered to review the highlights of their Euro2008 qualifying campaign and to look back at Scotland's previous World Cup adventures. On the back of dismissing former World Champions France in their own back-yard and coming so agonisingly close to dumping Italy out of the competition, spirits are soaring.
“That's my vision,” said Burley, putting on his best Braveheart parts.
“That's my aim. That's my dream. I want to take Scotland to a World Cup finals and I want the players to visualise that.
“Competing against the top nations in the Euros has given the players confidence and belief. There is a good atmosphere in the camp and the whole country is behind us. We have to take all of that into the next campaign.”
Gordon apart, Marshall's only other opponents for that No1 jersey are the Rangers pair of current Ibrox No1 Allan McGregor and the newly-arrived Neil Alexander whose ?500,000 exit out of Suffolk was one of the bigger surprises of the transfer window given that he is far from guaranteed a game at the Glasgow giants.
Given that one will always been in the other's shadow at Rangers, it looks like Marshall versus Gordon for the World Cup gig. Right now, you would have to suggest that form and confidence belongs to the Norwich keeper as Gordon digs in for a bitter relegation fight on Wearside.
On the international stage and inspiration won't be in short supply as Burley tries to get the whole 'vision' thing going ahead of that trip to Macedonia in September.
“The 'vision' to get there and the 'focus' on how we are going to get there. You have to have the vision and belief to think, 'Yes, that's my aim – that's the pinnacle of my career.' We need players who have belief, determination and vision, otherwise it's not going to happen.
“But if everybody sticks together then why can't it happen?”
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