Scotland squad watch: James Morrison and Matt Ritchie find form

Newcastle United midfielder Grant Hanley
Grant Hanley has forced his way back into the Newcastle starting line-up

Next month, Gordon Strachan will attempt to resurrect Scotland's hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

The national head coach faces a qualifier against Slovenia at Hampden, four months after a 3-0 defeat at Wembley left the national team in the doldrums.

Of the Scottish-based players selected in the last squad, Craig Gordon, Jack Hamilton, Lee Wallace, James Forrest and John McGinn are all playing regularly. Callum Paterson and Leigh Griffiths are currently injured.

A question mark remains over Scott Brown's continuing involvement after the Celtic midfielder reversed his decision to retire to return to the team for the trip to face England, but he has yet to commit himself further.

Outside Scotland, Strachan currently has the usual mixture of players in form and others out of sorts.

On the up

Centre-back has always been an area of concern for Strachan, because of limited options. He has tended to select Russell Martin and Grant Hanley, more often than not, so it will be of some reassurance to the national manager that both played for the full 90 minutes in winning teams at the weekend. Hanley made only his second start for Newcastle United as they defeated Derby County 1-0, while Martin captained Norwich City to their 1-0 win at Cardiff City.

It has been a challenging season at times for Darren Fletcher, but he has always retained the faith of West Brom manager Tony Pulis and the result has been an upturn in form. Fletcher, the club captain, played for the full 90 minutes as Stoke City were beaten 1-0, following on from the midfielder's assist against Middlesbrough in the previous game and a goal against Sunderland before that.

West Brom's James Morrison (right) celebrates scoring against Stoke
James Morrison (right) is back on form with West Brom after his return from injury

The winning strike against Stoke came from James Morrison, the midfielder's fifth of the season and his third in five games.

Matt Ritchie, too, remains on goalscoring form for Newcastle, delivering the decisive effort against Derby, the winger's eighth goal in the Championship this season and his fourth in three games. Ritchie is also among the leading players for assists in the division, with six so far.

It is still a period of adjustment for Robert Snodgrass following his £10m move from Hull City to West Ham United. The attacking midfielder played for the full 90 minutes, though, in his side's 3-1 win away to Southampton.

Feeling the grind

Returning to Strachan's options at centre-back, Christophe Berra and Gordon Greer are both playing for the clubs, Ipswich Town and Blackburn Rovers respectively. A 2-2 draw at home to Reading told of Ipswich's mixed form, while Greer lasted 70 minutes in Blackburn's 1-0 win over QPR.

Barry Bannan turned out in central midfield for Sheffield Wednesday, as usual, and was part of a 1-0 victory over Wigan Athletic that kept his side in the Championship play-off places.

There are more troubling concerns for midfielder James McArthur, who lasted 62 minutes in midfield as Crystal Palace were beaten 4-0 at home by Sunderland, a result that prompted a dressing-room visit from the chairman, Steve Parish, afterwards and a demand from the manager, Sam Allardyce, for the players to be at training on Sunday morning at 7am.

Chris Martin can be comfortable about his immediate future since Steve McClaren wants the striker to extend his Derby County contract, but for now he remains on loan at Fulham, who lost 1-0 at home to Birmingham City.

Kicking their heels

Hull City goalkeeper David Marshall
David Marshall has fallen out of favour at Hull City

A new manager and new circumstances for David Marshall at Hull City. The goalkeeper has been relegated to the bench in favour of Eldin Jakupovic and hasn't started a game since 2 January.

Stephen Kingsley remains on the periphery at Swansea City and was an unused substitute in the team's 2-1 defeat by Manchester City, having not made the match squad for the previous two league games.

A prominent role also still eludes Oliver Burke, who came on for 17 minutes as Leipzig lost 1-0 away to Borussia Dortmund.

Ikechi Anya also came off the bench for Derby, his second successive appearance as a substitute, and he has started only one of their five Championship games since the turn of the year.

For a striker, Steven Fletcher's timing could be better. He was sent off against Brighton last month and still has one match of this three-game suspension to serve after the weekend. His place in the side has been taken by new signing and Scotland colleague Jordan Rhodes, who provided the assist for Ross Wallace in the 1-0 win over Wigan.

Making a case

Strachan has already spoken of his admiration for Tom Cairney, having watched a number of Fulham games in recent weeks, and the midfielder is widely expected to be called up for the next squad. Now Fulham captain, and playing in a central role, he has consistently impressed.

Missing out on the original squad for the England game last November seemed to spur Matt Phillips, since he went on a run of starts that delivered three goals and six assists in the Premier League for West Brom. The winger clocked in another 87 minutes against Stoke.

Andrew Robertson missed out against England through injury, but his form was impressive enough for Burnley to lodge a £10m bid during the January transfer window. That was rejected and the left-back played for 90 minutes as Hull defeated Liverpool 2-0.

It would be unsurprising if there was also a recall for Charlie Mulgrew, since the former Celtic defender has become a regular starter for Blackburn, mostly at left-back but also in central midfield. He could also offer an option at centre-back.

Ryan Fraser has taken time to settle to life in the Premier League, but in Bournemouth's last six games he has delivered two goals and three assists, including one in the 6-3 defeat away to Everton.

Having found himself out of the picture at Hull, goalkeeper Allan McGregor secured a loan move to Cardiff in the transfer window and has started the last five games, conceding four goals.

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