• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Already it's win or bust

THE talk between now and Tuesday, when Scotland play Macedonia, will no doubt be about formations; about one striker, two strikers, no strikers.

Craig Levein consoles a frustrated Steven Naismith at the end of the 0-0 draw   Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Craig Levein consoles a frustrated Steven Naismith at the end of the 0-0 draw Photograph: Stewart Attwood

About Craig Levein being too cautious, not making changes early enough against Serbia yesterday, and giving our opponents too much respect.

All played a part, undoubtedly, in our failure to win our opening World Cup qualifier, but the simple fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter what formation you play if the players don't perform.

That's what cost Scotland more than anything else at Hampden. We weren't sure what to expect from the Serbs so we were right to be a little bit wary at the start, but I think it became obvious pretty quickly that they were a good team but not a great team. We should have won the game, and we would have had we played to our abilities.

Nowhere were we more off-key that in the midfield. Craig always talks it up, and rightly so, as the best area of our team; an area where we have players who are good on the ball and can move it around. But yesterday we passed the ball poorly and were too slow in possession. When we pressed them Serbia looked uncomfortable. They didn't force us deep, they came for a point. Instead, we forced ourselves deep and I don't know why that was.

Maybe the occasion and the nerves got to the players and I certainly noticed right from the start that Hampden was quiet and tense. I think the fans were worried about what Serbia might be like and perhaps that transmitted on to the pitch.

But now we're in a situation where Tuesday is vital. We're had it tough against Macedonia before and by all accounts they played well in losing 1-0 to Croatia on Friday. Croatia and Belgium won despite not playing that well – why can't we do that?

Even if we get good draws away now – in Serbia, Belgium or Croatia maybe – the horse has already bolted and we are chasing it. Quite simply, we need a big result now, to turn over someone we're not expected to turn over.

I think this team have it in them but first they need to get through Tuesday. I suspect Craig and his staff were looking at four points from these first two games as being decent – one from the Serbia game and all three against Macedonia – but the problem is that now we are under massive pressure to get that win on Tuesday.

I still reckon we'll do it but we need big characters, guys who will demand the ball. And I think we've got that in this squad and we're not that far away.

I've been there as a player and you do notice the crowd getting nervous, especially if you're having a shocker. There was an anxious feeling about Hampden yesterday and the players are going to have to deal with that on Tuesday, too, because at some stage there maybe be a setback – even if that's just through us failing to score – and we have to respond.

To put it simply, there's only one result that will do it for us now. If we draw on Tuesday, where do we go from there? That would be the doomsday scenario. The pressure will be huge but I still think we'll win the game, even if we have to go through the mill first.

I don't think Craig will change his shape but 4-1-4-1 doesn't have to be a defensive formation and normally it's not for this Scotland team. He might move Gary Caldwell into the back four and go a little bit more offensive but I understand why he might not.

There are still questions over the back four, even if Paul Dixon was magnificent on his debut and we kept a clean sheet. Take yesterday: a guy got a run on Alan Hutton and was nearly in. Andy Webster tried to play offside and was nearly caught at the end.

Craig could play Charlie Adam as the sitter but that would be a big gamble because if we lose a goal, what then? No, he has to start cautiously and if he has to gamble during the game and go gung-ho, he will.

At some point, we'll be playing 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 and piling players forward and going for it because we've ruled out a draw now and heaped the pressure instead of easing it.

My big fear is that yesterday's draw – and poor performance – might well come back to haunt us later in the campaign. I've been there when Belgium scored late against us to get a draw here and it happened in Lithuania in the last campaign. Again we've started slowly and now everything rides on Tuesday against Macedonia.

Contextual targeting label: 

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.