Thursday, October 16, 2014

Plenty of positives

Scotland have made a lot of progress under Gordon Strachan, but it looks as if old frailties might once again scupper our chances of qualifying for a major tournament. Scotland have always been solid against the big teams while struggling against the weaker sides in the group.

So while a home win against Georgia and an away point in Poland are both good results, our failure to get anything against Germany, currently competing with Gibraltar as the group’s whipping boys, may come back to haunt us.

Four points from an opening three games that included our two toughest looking fixtures is pretty good, but while Scotland have performed slightly above expectations, our two biggest rivals have taken four points off Germany between them. It’s hard to complan if your team does pretty well and is beaten by exceptional results elsewhere, but it just feels so Scottish to have our upturn in fortunes be overshadowed by that of others.

These were by no means flawless performances. Once again we looked laboured when trying to break down a solid but less talented team in Glasgow, and by the end of Tuesday night we should have been grateful to leave Warsaw with a point rather than disappointed we didn’t take all three.

But the resolve to come back from a potentially disastrous early goal against Poland was yet further evidence of how far Strachan has taken almost the same set of players that were so soul-destroying to watch under Craig Levein. The equaliser in particular was as good a goal as Scotland have scored for a while. the inch perfect diagonal pass from Fletcher, a Bergkampesque first touch by Anya, and composed finish by Maloney were all just lovely.

I for one was astounded when I saw a starting line-up composed of four defenders and so many naturally
attacking players, but Strachan has got everyone buying into a system where these players can be organised enough to not be too open while always being dangerous on the counterattack with so much pace in the team. It says a lot that we now feel comfortable enough to leave Darren Fletcher on the bench if he doesn’t fit into the system the manager wants to play.

So we move on to what might be our biggest game since Italy came to Hampden in 2007. Defeat to Ireland in November coupled with a Poland victory against Georgia would leave us six point behind both those teams and looking at an uphill struggle. A draw wouldn’t be a disaster, but if Scotland really want to take control of their own destiny then a win is surely a must. If only the SFA would do their bit and not jeopardise a full house at Celtic Park by charging through the nose for tickets.

Group D will go downn to the wire, and if Scotland are going to miss out, then at least we’ll have fun doing it.

Iain Meredith (IM) is technically a Rangers fan, but these days he tends to support them ironically.  He only agreed to help with this blog because now he can tell his wife that he's "only watching the game to help a friend out".

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