GORDON Strachan’s decision not to pick Leigh Griffiths at the start of Scotland’s Russia 2018 qualifying campaign cost Scotland a place at the World Cup.
That is the view of former internationalist Billy Dodds, who believes Scotland have improved but refused to be drawn on whether Strachan should stay or go.
The Tartan Army had a stuttering start in their bid to reach Russia, drawing at home to Lithuania and losing heavily away to Slovakia after a confident opening day win over Malta.
On-form Hoops striker Griffiths did not start any of the opening trio of matches with Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher preferred, a decision Dodds thinks the manager will regret.
“If Leigh Griffiths had started the campaign we probably would have qualified,” he told BBC Scotland.
“There were things not right at the start of the campaign, and that’s what cost us. It is cruel, but we are close.”
Scotland rallied from the disappointing start to finish with an impressive run of four wins and two draws in their final six games, but it was ultimately not enough to end a 20-year exile from a major tournament.
Dodds added: “Are the performance levels good? Yes, they were at the end of the campaign, but the start was so poor that we left ourselves a lot to do. Were we close to qualifying? Yes, but we fall short on every occasion.
“I’m not saying Gordon Strachan should stay or go, but we need to judge where we’re at. The form we’re in is good.
“If we bin another manager and go back the way – now we could get it right and end up qualifying – but if we go back the way we’re in real trouble. The players believe in the manager, we went close, a couple of games let us down.
“I don’t think we’re as bad as it’s been. The game there against Lithuania, for the first time we had blistering pace in the front three. We’re still searching for two top-quality, commanding centre-backs.
“We are not too far away. We can’t clamber onto ‘let’s get rid of another manager’. We’ve got a group of players who are close to qualifying.
“Gordon Strachan made mistakes and he’ll be the first to put his hand up and say he made mistakes, Leigh Griffiths being one of them. But at the end of it all, we are progressing as a nation and it’s probably the best group of players we’ve seen for a long time.”