KENNY MILLER has flown over 4000 miles from Canada for a Battle of Britain in the heart of Glasgow. In his last match he scored the winning goal for Vancouver Whitecaps. Now he is concerned only with Scotland caps and is transfixed on Friday’s must-win World Cup qualifier against Wales.
The 33-year-old is in the twilight years of his career, yet his appetite remains as healthy as ever. Hours of travelling won’t stop him representing his country, a fact proven by his journey to Pittodrie for just 24 minutes’ action in last month’s friendly with Estonia. He wanted to make an impression on the new Scotland manager Gordon Strachan and must have succeeded.
Now it’s for real. Scotland are bottom of World Cup qualifying Group A and are winless after four matches. They badly need a victory in a game which could evolve to suit them. Wales will arrive at Hampden with a stereotypically British approach, in contrast to Serbia whom Scotland face in Novi Sad next Tuesday. For now, there is only one team on Miller’s mind.
After his decisive goal in the Whitecaps’ 2-1 win over Columbus Crew 11 days ago, he is not short on confidence. “It’s not just experience I think I can offer. I still feel I can play. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be here,” said Miller. “It’s the same as every other lad; I want to play. Fine, we have got other forwards in the squad, but the reason I am here is I want to play. If I’m not going to play, then that’s a decision the manager has got to make, and it’s one you respect and one you get on with. There is a lot of competition for the places, but I still feel I can do the same job I have done for the team for the last ten years, otherwise I would not be sitting here.
“When you come up against these Battle-of-Britain-type games, there is always an added edge to it. There are wee rivalries going on within the teams, so that might help to get the fans going, but, whether it is Wales or anyone else, all we are focusing on is doing the job and getting three points because that is the only thing that will really salvage any kind of hope for this campaign.
“Serbia will be a different style of game, but that is what international football is all about. There are not many times in my career when I have come up against a British-style game because this is the first time we have had a British team in the group. It’s nice when you have these games against your near rivals.
“Whether it is England, Ireland or Wales, there is always an added incentive to do well because lads will probably be playing against some of their clubmates and they will get one over on them. But, when you play against Serbia or Croatia, you still know what to expect because we have enough experience at this level. Serbia will have a different style to Wales, but we will adapt to that and the manager will have us prepared properly for that as well.”
Wales beat Scotland 2-1 in Cardiff last October to kickstart their own qualifying campaign after a slow opening. “If you ask any of the Welsh players, they will still say they have had a poor start to the group. Going into that game in Cardiff, it was a case of if they didn’t win, they were in real trouble. If we didn’t win, we were in trouble, and a draw was no good to anyone. There seemed to be a reviewed optimism within their set-up after that game, while it was a hammer blow to us. Hopefully, this time it will be the other way about.”
Group A remains tight, with Serbia, Macedonia, Wales and Scotland separated by just two points. Only leaders Belgium and Croatia, tied on ten points, have broken clear. “That’s why we came into this campaign with so much optimism,” continued Miller. “You look at every team in the group and you think, ‘they can beat them’, ‘they can beat them’. I really felt it would be a tight group. Particularly if we sorted out our own job at home, I really thought we would be right in the shake-up at the end of it.
“We have had two home games and dropped four points in them, so we have not done that side of it. It’s not a given, but, playing at Hampden, nine times out of ten we have come to the fore and performed and produced some good results. The fact we have not done that leaves us playing catch up. The Tartan Army have been disappointed, and rightly so. We were disappointed. Now, it’s a new manager, and they are happy he has been appointed. Hopefully, they will get right behind us.
“From a players’ point of view, we need the Tartan Army. When you walk out at Hampdpen, there is no better place to play. The fans turn out in their 50,000s and they are right behind you. Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. They can kick you on, make you run that little bit harder, that wee bit faster, or make you block that shot which is maybe going to be a goal against you. The lads love playing in front of that crowd, so they have got a part to play.”
Strachan can rely on a fully tuned Miller should he select the veteran for Friday’s assignment. The Major League Soccer season kicked off at the start of the month and the striker has started both Whitecaps matches so far. He has also taken on the club captaincy in the absence of the injured Jay DeMerit. “I feel great now. The season is underway and we have had a couple of games,” he said.
“I didn’t take any time off in the close season. I was training with Rangers, got back to Vancouver and got a good pre-season under my belt. I have enjoyed the first two games, which we won, and it is all going according to plan so far.
“It’s a lovely part of the world, but, first and foremost, you are there for your football, and if that is not right, you can’t really enjoy anything else. At the moment it is going well. I miss the next game, at the weekend away at Houston Dynamo, but hopefully the lads can go and get another good result.
“During our close-season, I wanted to come back here for the Estonia game and play a part. I was made well aware I wouldn’t be starting, but, it was the manager’s first squad and I wanted to be part of it.
“The manager knows the situation with me. If he thinks there are any problems, he would let me know. By the same token, if I felt there were going to be any kind of issues, then I would raise them myself. I’m old enough to understand what I am doing and I feel right to still be doing it.
“There will come a time when you have got to weigh it up if it is maybe causing problems with your club, the travelling, if you are coming away and not playing, that kind of thing.
“There is a crop of maybe six or seven strikers who, at the moment, are fighting for these jerseys. You have got Steven Naismith, Ross McCormack, George Boyd, Steven Fletcher, Jordan Rhodes and even Shaun Maloney playing in the withdrawn role against Estonia.
“Gary Mackay-Steven is now coming into it and, in my opinion, he is a fantastic talent who has a lot to offer the squad in the future. So, depending on what system the manager wants to play, there are a lot of players who can fill in the positions in the attacking area. There a lot of options there.
“The manager will be picking his team based on what he believes is the right side and what he feels are the best players, and not really on who is playing when and what time of their season it is. I was at a disadvantage for the Estonia game because I was only in pre-season and had not played a game for a while. I don’t feel I am at any disadvantage at the moment.
“The manager picks his team based on what he thinks will win the game. It won’t be based on anything else. If I’m part of it, brilliant. I would love to be part of it. If I not, then I have just got to hope I have got a role to play at some stage.”