John Hartson was left mystified by Alex McLeish’s decision to leave Celtic’s James Forrest out of Scotland’s starting XI against San Marino on Sunday.
Scotland limped to a 2-0 win over the European minnows, a result which heaped further pressure on the manager after the Scots lost their opening qualifying match 3-0 away at Kazakhstan.
With goal difference already becoming an issue the trip to San Marino offered an opportunity to move back into the black with a thumping victory, but a winning margin of just two goals left them in the red.
It was a game which did little to inspire the Scotland fans and convince them of McLeish’s credentials, and his decision to omit Forest from the starting line-up was met with bewilderment by Hartson.
The former Celtic man and regular BT Sport pundit published a column in the Evening Times discussing the peculiar decision, with the attacking midfielder’s heroics in the UEFA Nations League still fresh in the memory.
‘The Celtic man is a class act, one of the best Scots around, and should be the first name on Alex McLeish’s team-sheet.’
Hartson later went on to add: ‘This guy has to start.’
The 27-year-old underlined his importance to the Scottish national side shortly before the turn of the year.
Forrest had never notched at international level prior to Scotland’s trip to Albania, and he went on to score five goals in the space of three scintillating days as they moved into top spot in the group.
Perhaps McLeish felt the trip to San Marino offered an apt opportunity to afford his star player some rest after the defeat at Kazakhstan, but his absence proved that he will be vital in his nation’s bid to qualify for Euro 2020.
The electric midfielder’s form at both club and international level has been outstanding this season so it’s easy to sympathise with Hartson’s standpoint, even if the Scotland boss had legitimate reason to leave him on the substitutes bench on Sunday.