Gordon Strachan has urged his players to make up for recent below-par performances in the best possible fashion – by beating England in their World Cup qualifier at Wembley tonight and joining their rivals at the top of Group F.
“It really is a huge three points and it’s to get some respectability back because I felt we lost that in the last couple of games, as well as a little bit of pride,” the manager said.
Scotland have put themselves and Strachan under pressure after dropping five points in their last two games, against Lithuania at home then in Slovakia. The manager stressed there was nowhere better than Wembley, where 14,000 Scots at least will be in attendance, to seek atonement and resuscitate their World Cup ambitions.
“It’s the one place you want to perform and put on a good show because there’s so many people there,” he said.
“We’re doing it for the group, the people who have travelled, anybody who has tapped us on the shoulder and wished us good luck and anyone who wants us to win. We’re doing it for them. Nothing else has any bearing on the next 24 hours.”
Strachan refused to comment on whether his own future hinges on the result. But it is difficult for Scotland players to escape the enormity of tonight’s clash, with Scottish fans already milling around the stadium last night. The players will have drawn back the curtains of their room this morning to see the Wembley Arch dominating the skyline, such is the close proximity to the stadium of the team’s hotel.
In contrast to the last time Scotland played at the stadium three years ago, when they trained at Watford’s training ground on the eve of the match, the squad trained at the stadium yesterday evening, allowing players such as Hearts defender Callum Paterson to sample Wembley for the first time.
“Absolutely, it’s a huge game,” Strachan stressed. “We can’t beat about the bush on this one.”
The manager pointedly noted how gladdened he was to have the players he has with him on this mission to try and salvage Scotland’s World Cup campaign. Gordon Greer, the returning Scott Brown and Steven Fletcher have shrugged off knocks and are available for selection.
Strachan has come under criticism this week from Charlie Adam, a long-time absentee from squads. The midfielder complained players operating at a lower level than he is at Stoke City are getting picked ahead of him, and that Strachan had not been in touch with him for over a year.
But Strachan was at pains last night to praise those who have become established members of the Scotland squad.
“As a manager when you go to your bed at night and think: ‘well, I wonder if someone will let me down?’ With this squad, no. They might not always play terrifically well but they give everything. I never go to my bed thinking I will be let down by someone not taking responsibility.”
On Adam’s comments specifically, he added: “To be fair, I think there are a lot of players who probably think ‘I’ve got a chance of being in there’, so many of them. Probably you guys think one or two could be in there and that’s understandable. It’s always up for debate.
“It’ll be the same when the team comes out before the game (tonight),” he continued. “That’s not a problem. But I have to say at this moment in time people hurt when they don’t get in the squad, that’s understandable.
“There is a criteria for getting in the squad but it’s too near the game to talk about that.”