PERCEIVED as negative and overly defensive, Craig Levein has endured notable criticism since being appointed Scotland’s national coach.
On Saturday, he must order his players to attack Liechtenstein or risk their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign ending in abject failure in the footballing outpost of Vaduz.
Levein’s cautious approach hasn’t found favour with some factions of the Tartan Army, particularly following last month’s draw with Czech Republic and narrow victory over Lithuania. Before those games there was the 4-6-0 debacle in Prague. Now he must select a team to go on the offensive.
Only a win will suffice in the Rheinpark Stadion, anything else and Scotland can forget Poland and Ukraine next summer. Spain lie in wait in Alicante next Tuesday but, for Scotland, it’s very much a case of first things first.
Levein’s preparations, as is habitually the case, are hindered by illness and injury to key players, like Darren Fletcher and Kenny Miller. Yet he has named a squad full of versatile footballers who can fit snugly into his preferred 4-5-1 system.
One of them is Graham Dorrans, who favours Levein’s tactics because they allow players flexibility and a certain degree of freedom. The former Livingston midfielder, now at West Bromwich Albion, missed training on Tuesday due to a stiff ankle but expects to be available for the assignment against Liechtenstein.
His view of Levein is wholly positive. “I’ve worked under a lot of managers and you look to take little pointers from all of them. That’s how you look to develop your game,” explained Dorrans. “The gaffer here did really well at Dundee United and he’s been down in England managing Leicester. Now’s he’s the national coach.
“He has a lot of experience which you try to learn from. You don’t get too much time when you come away with Scotland. It’s only a week at a time, really. When you go into his training sessions you see that he knows what he’s doing.
“He sets his team up to play 4-5-1 and I enjoy playing that formation. The gaffer and Housty have been fantastic since they came in and it’s nice to work under people like that who have been around a long time.
“I know it’s 4-5-1 but going forward it’s 4-3-3. We have attacking players and, if you look at the last game, we had people like Barry Bannan and Steven Naismith out wide. They are very attack-minded and they’ll go forward and create chances.
“It’s a flexible formation. The players have licences to go and play, create chances and score goals.”
That last part especially appeals to Dorrans.
He built his reputation at Almondvale as an attacking midfielder who can create and score goals and has reproduced the same form at the highest level in England.
His club manager, Roy Hodgson, sees a potential match-winner in the 24-year-old from Barlanark. “In Dorrans we have a very, very talented player who could be an ace up the sleeve.”
Last season’s ankle injury saw Dorrans’ career stall slightly at both club and international level. He only recently regained his place in the West Brom side and acknowledges the need for patience with Scotland.
“If I’m scoring goals at club level then I’m sure it will make the gaffer think about me, but there are 20 other players thinking the same thing in the squad. If they’re doing well they will feel they should be playing,” he said.
“We have plenty young players like Barry Bannan and Steven Naismith. It’s difficult for any manager when you have players who aren’t playing and think they should be playing. Everyone has to stick together, stay healthy and keep pushing one another. That can only help us win matches and, hopefully, qualify for a tournament.
“I want to get a run of games because that’s what I need. I’ve just got into the West Brom team and I feel that’s helped me after injury last season. It’s the first time I’ve played three or four games in a row and I feel as if I’m getting back to where I was before my injury.
“I want to show everyone up here, who maybe haven’t seen much of me playing in England, that I can play in the Scotland squad.
“There are lots of people vying for places so I need to work hard in training to try to get in the team. We have a lot of experienced midfielders, like Charlie Adam at Liverpool, Darren Fletcher at Man United, wee Barry who is playing every week now at Aston Villa, James Morrison and then Naisy who is playing well in the SPL.
“These guys are playing every week for their clubs and that makes it tough. I need to be patient and take my chance when it comes.”
Should Scotland toil to unlock the part-timers of Liechtenstein, Dorrans could be one player Levein turns to. “We’re going into these games knowing we need to win the first game to stay in it, then deal with the second game in Spain,” said Dorrans.
“Everyone knows it’s a massive double header but we can only take the first match as it comes. We know it’s a massive game that we need to win. We know what we have to do and what to expect.
“I don’t know if it makes it easier knowing you need to win. There is no other approach to it other than going in to win. We’ll set ourselves out to do that. If it’s not going our way we need to stay in the game because if you do that you will get a chance to win it.
“Football matches last 90 minutes, so if we score in the 90th minute and win 1-0 then we get the three points and that’s all that matters. If that’s what’s required, we need to be patient, stay in the game and keep going till the very last minute. We’ll go to the 95th minute again if that’s what it takes to get the win.”