05 Sep It’s all about us for Strachan
Scotland boss Gordon Strachan confessed he had no idea how close England came to wrecking his side’s World Cup bid.
The play-off chasing Scots kept up their side of the bargain by registering a straight-forward 2-0 win over Malta at Hampden.
But there was a period of panic for the Tartan Army when Slovakia – the frontrunners to finish second in Group F – took a shock lead against England at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s men eventually fought back to claim a 2-1 win that leaves Scotland just a point behind Slovakia, who they host in Glasgow next month.
But Strachan admitted he was unaware of just how precarious his team’s situation had become.
“Did they go in the lead? I didn’t know that,” said the Scotland boss. “Seriously I didn’t even think about it.
“I heard the roar maybe 30 minutes in and I thought, ‘Well that’s them scored’. But I didn’t know that Slovakia had scored first. I didn’t know that at all. I think I had enough to worry about at the time, without worrying about anything else.”
Having survived that scare, Scotland know victory in their final two games – firstly that crunch encounter against Slovakia at Hampden on October 5 before a trip to Slovenia three days later – will almost certainly guarantee them a play-off shot at reaching next summer’s finals in Russia.
Having taken four points from the first four games of the group, Strachan admitted he could have no complaints over the task facing his men.
“I’m all right with that,” he said. “When you get to the stage when your fate is in your own hands in a tournament that’s all you can ask.
“You can look back and say we could have done better there, there and there but we have tried to make up for bad performances or low-key performances by doing the best we can.”
Friday night’s impressive 3-0 win over Lithuania had fired a fresh injection of optimism into the Scottish ranks ahead of facing Malta in front of a half-full Hampden.
But he eerie atmosphere that filled the ground did little to help generate the kind of energetic tempo that had been the hallmark of the display in Vilnius.
Christophe Berra headed home after nine minutes to settle nerves while Leigh Griffiths turned home the second just after half-time to ensure Scotland side-stepped an unthinkable slip-up against a side ranked 190th in the world.
There was slight concern when Griffiths limped off with a calf injury but Strachan was optimistic the knock will not dog him long term.
But while the manager was pleased with his side’s businesslike approach he did concede the suspension worries hanging over skipper Scott Brown, James McArthur, Charlie Mulgrew, Grant Hanley and Griffiths – who were all one booking away from missing the Slovakia clash – did contribute to a performance that bordered on the lacklustre at times.
He said: “We had 25 attempts at goal. That says it all. It’s 48 in the last two games, so that’s good enough to win games of football.
“The work that went in, the running off the ball, the bravery and 48 attempts at goal. That’s not bad.
“We could have scored more goals tonight but we were a wee bit tired after Friday.
“But that was more than enough tonight. It got to the point where the boys just wanted to kill the game off and make sure we kept the ball.
“The (suspension issue) could have affected them at times, I think they were just making sure they were never getting involved in anything that might have given them a yellow card.
“I think that affected one or two tackles or when they went in for the ball. They were just making sure they weren’t getting involved.
“I even asked them not to get excited with the referee or get a yellow card for anything. It had to be a bit more low tempo to make sure the guys got through that so that’s a bonus as well.”
Scotland are now unbeaten in their last four games and Malta coach Pietro Ghedin has seen enough to convince him they will pip their rivals to finish behind England.
He said: “It was a difficult game for us. Scotland played very well. For 90 minutes they pushed very well.
“But I am very happy with our performance. The commitment from our players was very beautiful.
“It’s just very difficult against a team like Scotland. If they can play like this I think they can achieve the results they need to get out of the group.”