SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan did not allow the narrow nature of his team’s win over Georgia last night to dampen his enthusiasm for a victory that represented lift-off for his side’s Group D Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
It may have required an own goal from Akaki Khubutia to deliver a first three-pointer but for Strachan the real triumph came in the crispness and cohesion demonstrated by his players in giving the Georgian a runaround not reflected in the result.
“That was a magnificent performance,” the Scotland manager said. “That was the best hour we’ve had as a football team since I’ve been here. You need to win, you need to get points and you imagine when you go to your bed on a Friday night how are we going to get them? I imagine it might be hard, I imagine it might be a scrappy goal, I imagine we might have trouble breaking them down.
“They [our players] are capable of it but I didn’t know they could play that kind of free-flowing football with such ease and break down a good defensive side, create so many chances. Because the onus is on you. It’s different in Germany [the 2-1 defeat last month] when you have to break away. I asked for a variation of play and we’ve been working on that this week.
“Although, funnily enough, we’ve been working on playing against a back three all week, which is what [Georgia] played the last time they came out, and four days of work blew up when they played a back four. But because we’ve been working at playing against fours for the last 18 months, and how to deal with an extra man in midfield, the boys changed to it no problem at all.”
The notable problem on the night was converting the opportunities they regular carved out. Steven Naismith was the chief culprit in passing up three good openings, but Strachan still found real positives in the Everton forward’s contribution.
“He kept to a level away up there in terms of team spirit, attitude, work rate, he kept our level high. He didn’t let the misses affect him,” the Scotland manager said. “He kept going, it took nothing away from his energy and that’s what we ask. We said there would be a couple of players not at their best for whatever reason and the only thing missing from Naisy’s game was a goal.”
Scotland’s inability to kill the encounter with a second goal was not a cause for concern for Strachan, even if that meant that the home side had to survive one scare late on when Irakli Dzaria blazed wide with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
“They changed in the second half but I still think for the first 25 minutes of the second half we were still making chances, their keeper was making saves, and we got into areas we were pleased with. We were maybe just a wee bit rusty with a couple of shots we could have got off earlier, we maybe tried to walk the ball into the back of the net.
“But in any game of football, I don’t care who you are, if you’re only one up with ten minutes to go it starts getting a bit hairy. They’re throwing people forward. To that extent I thought the two centre halves [Grant Hanley and Russell Martin] were fantastic. They had to come out at some point. I told the players last night ‘you can’t run a game for 90 minutes’. That’s impossible. And we dealt with their good play and David [Marshall] has not had a save to make.”
Strachan was reluctant to consider difference in approach and personnel when Scotland face Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday, with Darren Fletcher held in reserve last night. As had been made public, the captaincy role was the preserve of Scott Brown. Strachan declared him “awesome” and petitioned that those in the starting line-up at Ibrox had made any team modifications in two days’ time difficult to ponder.
“I imagine there’ll be changes but who do you leave out?” he said. “The system might change a wee bit, but not much, When you’ve players with the ability we’ve got then you let them have their head a bit. We have to see who is fresh – Shaun [Maloney] doesn’t play too many games at the moment. There are a couple of lads like that, considering he hasn’t had too many games he was absolutely phenomenal.
“I think the players left out are as enthusiastic as anybody in the dressing room. Everybody wants to play and the ones who didn’t are disappointed. But their time will come again, that’s for sure.
“The Poland game is different but you still have to move and pass the ball and play with energy. Tactically it might be a wee bit different but I can’t see it being too much different. In saying that I think I’ll give myself this evening to enjoy. We’ll watch the Poland [v Germany] game in the morning.”