Gordon Strachan has admitted he’ll happily watch the Tartan Army lose their heads as they watch Scotland battle it out with Slovakia at Hampden tonight – so long as his players keep theirs.
Acknowledging there will be a highly-charged atmosphere within the national stadium as Scotland bid to keep their hopes of making next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia alive, Strachan conceded there was no point in asking the home fans to remain patient.
“They have paid their money,” he said. “They want to get excited and all the rest of it. You can’t ask them to sit there and so ‘Och, it’s not a problem, the boys have got it well in hand’.
“That isn’t football. The fans will be saying ‘woah, let’s go for it, get up for it’ and all the rest of it. There are times when we will have to stay patient on the ball and the crowd will be saying ‘we want the ball to go forward’.
“But there’s no point in getting it forward because they have two big centre-halves who will head it back up the pitch and we will be in trouble. The fans can do what they want but we have to stay above that.”
Strachan knows full wel l that tonight’s 90 minutes are guaranteed to be an emotional roller-coaster for one and all but he’s hoping his players can get the home crowd fully behind them from the first minute.
He said: “I think the fans and players together make Hampden a special place, I really do. It isn’t the easiest place to get going. At other places, the atmosphere instantly hits you. You have to work a lot harder here I think, the players and the fans. It is amazing the small things that can bring fans on your side. And I am not just talking about wonderful dribbling and shots. It’s jumping higher, winning a bouncing ball, chasing somebody, closing down.
“Look at Leigh Griffiths. He got the biggest cheer when he chased the centre-back down against England. The crowd thought it was brilliant.
“Those small things can change it. If you aren’t having a good game as a player just do that and the crowd will stay with you. The atmosphere will change every minute of the game from ‘yeah, this is great’ to ‘oh jeez, here we go’ and to depression and back up again.”
And while he admits the pressure is still on, Strachan insisted it is not as intense as it was earlier in the campaign when a stuttering start left Scotland with just four points from their opening four games to leave them looking as if it was all over.
Now, though, they are in a three-way fight with Slovakia and Slovenia – who they play in Ljubljana on Sunday in their final qualifying match – for the play-off place behind Group F leaders England and with a second chance of making it to Russia.
He said: “I think we really need to know we could have been out of this thing four or five games ago so I think there was more pressure than now. There is still pressure, no doubt about it.
“But there is more excitement about it than the real nitty-gritty we had three or four games ago. We have given ourselves that belief. We know it will be a long night, but we can deal with it.
“It’s going to be end-to-end, we can deal with that as well.”
A number of Strachan’s players have already stated they want to see him carry on as Scotland boss no matter what happens over the next few days but he refused to be drawn, saying: “I don’t like talking about it, I really don’t.
“Lets get this one out of the way and we’ll see what we’re doing after that. Someone asked me about playing in some golf seniors on October 21. I’ve not got a clue what I’m doing, I couldn’t tell you. Wait until the two games are out of the way, I’ll give you a shout.”