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Signeul's Scots taking nothing for granted

HAVING started 2015 World Cup qualifying among the hunters, Scotland's excellent early momentum in Group 4 means they have become the hunted.

READY: Lisa Evans knows the Scots have their work cut out as the Poles come calling at Fir Park tonight.  Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
READY: Lisa Evans knows the Scots have their work cut out as the Poles come calling at Fir Park tonight. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

At Fir Park this evening, Poland, who are third in the group, are next to take a shot.

With the opening four games all handsomely won, including an outstanding 4-0 away defeat of the Poles in October, the natural assumption is that tonight's game is a foregone conclusion. As Anna Signeul and her players are all too aware, though, that would be a serious error of judgment.

The Scots, who also play Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica on Thursday, can extend their lead over group favourites Sweden to at least six points this time next week, but only if they eliminate the defensive slackness which has undermined their fine attacking play in recent games. Sweden play Northern Ireland away tonight but don't have a midweek game.

The Scots have moved up to 19th in the Fifa rankings, but Poland are just outside the top 30 and have a young improving side who play fast, direct football. Turbine Potsdam striker Lisa Evans summed up the task facing Scotland when she admitted: "We beat Poland 4-0 in the away game but the result flattered us. If you look at the stats they had as many chances as us, but we took ours. Jane Ross had a superb game and scored a hat-trick, while Jo Love scored a great goal as well.

"Poland are a strong side and need the win themselves. They had a good result in their last qualifier, beating Northern Ireland 3-0 away. It would be dangerous to take anything for granted because of what happened when we played them over there."

The bad news for Scotland is that central defender Ifeoma Dieke is struggling for fitness after injuring a calf playing for her Swedish club Vittsjo. Her return from a long-term knee injury at the recent Cyprus Cup made a huge difference to the Scotland defence - significantly she was rested for the game against the Netherlands when Signeul's side nearly squandered a 3-0 lead.

The good news is the scintillating form of Evans, who was the Cyprus tournament's top scorer with four goals, including a hat trick against the Dutch. Playing in a more advanced role alongside former Glasgow City team-mate Ross, her pace and movement caused havoc.

The 21-year-old from Perth is also only two games away from a Champions League final, both games to be played when she returns to Potsdam after the Bosnia match for a semi-final double-header against holders and fellow Germans Wolfsburg. "Between international and club football I'm living the dream at the moment," she admitted. "We're in with a chance of winning the Bundesliga as well."

Rangers central midfielder Megan Sneddon, who only played 26 minutes in Cyprus because of injury, is available again this evening. The prognosis on striker Christie Murray is not so good.

What was heartening about the performances in Cyprus was that Scotland scored 10 goals in four games against higher-ranked teams despite not having Murray and a number of other attacking players available. Two of these, Glasgow City's Sue Lappin and Leanne Crichton, have been restored to the squad and will increase the attacking options of Signeul who was delighted with the forward play in Cyprus, in particular, coming off the back of a 3-1 friendly defeat to Finland in February.

"We dominated and created many chances, so that was worrying," said Signeul. "I wasn't too concerned that we only scored one because normally we can get goals from various positions, but I was concerned about how we defended."

Although the next game (1-1 with France) maintained the standards of the opening four Group 4 games, there were signs against the Netherlands and Australia that problems remain.

"That must be addressed," Signeul said. "We need to get the feeling that we're solid and focused and that if we do lose a goal it's down to really good play from our opponents."

Taking maximum points from the Poland and Bosnia games is essential to keep the pressure on Sweden. The sides meet at Fir Park on June 14, in what should be the pivotal game in the group, and again on September 17. As things stand, Signeul's side also have a significant edge in goal difference - 18 to 8 - over their closest rivals.

The Swede sees little prospect of her countrywomen slipping up against Northern Ireland tonight. "Unfortunately not," she said. "I know Northern Ireland are struggling with injuries. I just hope they can keep the scoreline down."

Tonight's kick off is 5.30pm at Fir Park. Admission is on the gate.

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