Scotland: James McArthur and Oliver Burke provide cheer for Gordon Strachan
There are times when Scotland head coach Gordon Strachan just has to keep the faith. With 11 days to go until his side faces Lithuania at Hampden, a number of his key players remain peripheral at their clubs.
Of the 11 who started in the 5-1 win over Malta last month, eight played the full 90 minutes at the weekend. One player - Newcastle United's Grant Hanley - did not feature at all, while Barry Bannan and Oliver Burke did at least play the majority of their respective fixtures.
The latter provided, yet again, the most striking sense of optimism, scoring on his first start for RB Leipzig to become the first Scottish player to register a goal in Germany's Bundesliga since Brian O'Neill struck for Wolfsburg in 1999.
Staking a claim
His performance in Malta was promising enough for Burke to be considered a player of growing importance to Strachan, but the way he has settled into life on the pitch in the Bundesliga has further established his potential.
He has made three appearances for Leipzig, scoring his first goal less than five minutes into his first start at the weekend, against Koln, and he also has one assist to his name in Germany. The right winger's confidence alone will make him valuable to Strachan.
James McArthur is another player approaching the World Cup qualifying double header with a sense of dynamism to his play.
Having returned to the Crystal Palace starting line-up following injury, McArthur has scored twice in two Premier League games and was a leading presence in Saturday's 3-2 win over Sunderland. "James gives an energy and assurance that we miss when he's not there," said Palace manager Alan Pardew. "He was excellent."
Competition for places in central midfield is growing, since Graham Dorrans has now played 90 minutes as a deep lying playmaker in four consecutive games for Norwich City - wracking up one goal and one assist in that spell - as Alex Neil's side moved to the top of the Championship with a 3-1 win over Burton Albion.
Other players are steadily building a case for inclusion, even though it may fall short for the upcoming squad. No player in the Championship, for instance, has assisted more goals than Lewis MacLeod at Brentford and he played 64 minutes in an attacking midfield role in the 3-1 defeat away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Left-back Barry Douglas, meanwhile, continues to perform solidly domestically and in Europe for Konyaspor, who are mid-table in the Turkish Super Lig following a 1-0 defeat by Trabzonspor.
Strachan would, in one sense at least, have been relieved to see goalkeeper David Marshall finally make his debut for Hull City, although conceding five goals to Liverpool would have dented the player's confidence.
Marshall did not shoulder the blame for the defeat, since Jurgen Klopp's side was relentlessly and breathlessly imposing, but the 90 minutes would have felt long and chastening for the goalkeeper as well as left-back Andrew Robertson and attacking midfielder Robert Snodgrass, who also played the full game.
Elsewhere in defence, centre-back Russell Martin captained Norwich and Christophe Berra played the full 90 minutes as Ipswich Town conceded only their second goal in five games as they lost 1-0 to Leeds United.
Darren Fletcher once again played a full part as West Bromwich Albion drew 1-1 at Stoke City, while attacking midfielder Matt Phillips was only replaced with two minutes remaining.
Sheffield Wednesday striker Steven Fletcher and Derby County midfielder Ikechi Anya played the entire games for their respective clubs, with the latter providing the assist for the consolation goal in a 2-1 loss to Blackburn Rovers.
On the periphery
As well as Hanley, other prominent individuals did not feature for their clubs: Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker at Norwich, Alan Hutton and Ross McCormack at Aston Villa, Charlie Mulgrew at Blackburn, Johnny Russell at Derby and Shaun Maloney at Hull.
Jordan Rhodes came off the bench for Middlesbrough, but he and Fulham's Chris Martin have yet to score for their clubs this season.
Charlie Adam came off the bench for Stoke, but the four minutes is unlikely to alter his status as a player very much on the margins for Scotland, while his team-mate, Phil Bardsley, was an unused substitute.
James Morrison also remains out of the picture at West Brom, coming off the bench for seven minutes and only having started one game - an EFL Cup tie - all season.
It was also a rough Saturday for Fulham midfielder Kevin McDonald, who was sent off after 79 minutes for serious foul play against Bristol City.