England stacked with class but Scots have belief '“ Mulgrew
The mere mention of Harry Kane's name should be enough to cause any Scotland defender a sleepless night as they contemplate trying to tame the English goalscoring machine.
For the third season in succession, the Spurs hitman has been the Premier League’s leading scorer, 99 goals claimed in that period with 35 coming in just 39 appearances in the campaign just ended, including five hat-tricks.
Add in the 23-year-old’s declared intention to add another three to that formidable tally in tomorrow’s World Cup qualifying match at Hampden and you wouldn’t be surprised to find a few of Gordon Strachan’s squad tossing and turning in their beds tonight.
But, insisted Charlie Mulgrew, there’s no point he and his team-mates worrying too much about Kane – because Gareth Southgate’s squad, unbeaten at the top of Group F, carries many more just as threatening characters.
Asked if he felt shackling Kane would give the Scots “half a chance” of winning, the Blackburn Rovers player said: “Stop him and there’s [Raheem] Sterling. They have so many you cannot pick out one.
“Then there is Jermaine Defoe. They are all world-class players so we have to be prepared and ready. We know all the possibilities of what they can and cannot do. We have to turn up on the night and deliver.”
If beating a side yet to concede a goal in the competition and one which beat Scotland 3-0 at Wembley as recently as November appears mission impossible, Mulgrew insisted he only needs to look back on Celtic’s shock victory over Barcelona in Glasgow five years ago for inspiration.
Neil Lennon’s players left the Catalan giants stunned as goals from Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt earned them a memorable 2-1 victory, Lionel Messi able to do no more than gain a consolation tap-in late on.
He recalled: “I think every player goes into every game believing there has got to be something. That night we must have had that belief or we would not have got anything. The manager got us having that wee bit of hope, showing areas where we could score.
“It was a huge night – no-one gave us a chance.”
Whether it is Kane or Messi, Mulgrew insisted every opponent had to be treated exactly the same way although the 31-year-old conceded: “It’s at the back of your mind who they are but I think it maybe sharpens your senses a bit.
“You realise how good they are and what you need to do to stop them. It’s going to be a difficult night, believe me, but we’ll be giving it everything.”
Mulgrew was a disappointed onlooker in November, a late call-up to the squad but left sitting in the stand. But he insists he saw enough that night to feel Strachan’s players do have a hope of following up the 1-0 victory over Slovenia in March which breathed new life into their ailing qualifying campaign with another positive result.
He said: “I’m not going to say I wasn’t disappointed that night, but I had to get on with it. You have to get your head round it. I was told early enough and I was happy just to be involved in some capacity although you do want to be on the pitch so hopefully I will be this time,
“I thought we played well at Wembley. It honestly could have been a different scoreline. We have a lot of players we know are quality, we have to believe in ourselves, get on the ball and have that belief we can cause them problems as well.”
Mulgrew believes he is in better shape now than he was back then – although he wouldn’t have admitted it at the time – saying: “I feel good, strong and fit.
“It’s not going to be easy. We are the underdogs as they have top-class players all over the pitch but we are looking forward to the game. The win over Slovenia has given us a lift, a clean sheet which was down not to just the back four but everyone working hard for it. That made it easier and we’ve taken confidence from that performance.
“We know how hard it’s going to be tomorrow but we are up for it.
“We’ve a good group of players and the manager is up for every single game, whether it’s a friendly or whoever. But when it’s the likes of England then there is that little bit of nerves, of excitement.
“To be involved in such a game would be right up there with any other. I love playing for Scotland, no matter who we are playing. But I grew up watching the games against England, dreaming of playing in one but never thinking I would so it is brilliant to be involved.
“My first memory was probably Gazza’s goal at Wembley. I was living in Canada at the time but watched it on television and I was devastated.
“The Old Firm matches are massive, there’s a huge passion. When you have big games you feel that extra bit of excitement. The Old Firm games are huge but the atmosphere tomorrow will be fantastic and hopefully that will drive us on.”
Mulgrew, of course, suffered the bitter disappointment of being relegated to League One with Blackburn Rovers, the first club ever to have won the Premier League to find themselves in the third tier of English football. However he insisted nothing will be further from his mind tomorrow.
He said: “What happened at club level is totally separate. It’s happened and we have to get on with it. It’s reality and we will see what happens going into the new season.
“Playing England is massive so that’s my entire focus. I’ll be giving everything I can for my country.”
Mulgrew might not be top of the list when the Tartan Army begin placing their bets as to who might get the first goal but, as someone with a bit of a reputation as a free-kick specialist, he admitted he’d love to have the chance to take one.
He said: “We’ve got a lot of good free-kick takers but if we get one I’ll be putting myself up for it. I would be pretty confident – but we have to get one in the final third first.”