WHEN Craig Levein’s Scotland side were being torn apart by the USA in Jacksonville 18 months ago, Gordon Strachan’s international focus was elsewhere.
On that May weekend last year, he was more interested in England’s display against Norway in Oslo as they warmed up for the Euro 2012 finals while he prepared for his ITV pundit’s role at the tournament.
As Strachan starts the build-up to what he hopes will be a successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign for Scotland, tonight’s rematch with the World Cup-bound Americans at Hampden may therefore appear the ideal opportunity to illustrate the progress achieved since he replaced Levein in charge of the national team.
But Strachan sees no relevance in comparisons with that 5-1 humiliation in Florida, preferring to assess Scotland in relation to how successful they are in maintaining the improved performance levels witnessed under his guidance in the past few months.
“First of all, I have never even seen the last game against America,” said Strachan. “I’ve never watched it and I have no interest in it.
“I asked one or two of the lads this week if they had played in it and one or two of them just kind of nodded at me. But the result will not determine progress made by us because you cannot match how the USA played and how we played.
“We will just look at what we have been doing in the past few months and compare it with that and where we are going.”
Strachan has established a 4-2-3-1 formation which, in recent matches, has shown encouraging signs of combining solidity with attacking enterprise. With 10 months until Scotland are in competitive action again, he will try to stick by the system as much as possible in a series of challenge matches as he looks to retain an upbeat mood among both his players and the Tartan Army.
“We aim to send them home feeling good about themselves, as individuals and as a group, after Friday’s game against America and the game in Norway on Tuesday,” said Strachan.
“If we can do that now, great, then we’ve got four months where we can look forward to working again in the next international break in February. But this recent period has been good for everybody.
“It will be disappointing if we can’t maintain the momentum we’ve built up.
“There are times you just stay on a level but, as long as you don’t go backwards, that’s okay. It’s not necessarily about results.
“You can win a game and think ‘I didn’t enjoy that – I didn’t see much there’ but you can lose a game and think ‘That’s encouraging.’ You can win with one hit at goal or you ask players to do things, create things and they do everything right, have 16 attempts at goal but it doesn’t go in. You have to take that into consideration.
“I hope we don’t take a backward step along the way but it depends what the performances are like.
“I like to win, but you can win like Newcastle did last weekend with one hit at goal while Spurs had all those attempts, for example. The Spurs manager would have been thinking that he couldn’t have asked any more from his players.
“The system we have been playing is something we feel comfortable with but we might not always be able to do that for some reason or another. You don’t chop and change to take into account the other team too often – there might be the odd occasion where they are so good that you might have to think about that.
“But it’s good that you have a kind of idea of how you’re going to play, so that when the players come here they know what they have to do, instead of starting all over again every time they get together.
“I think we just keep doing what we’re doing. The players are comfortable with what we’re doing, but the system is only as good as how the players perform it. There are only four or five systems that everybody uses and if one of them guaranteed success, we’d all be using it. If teams get together playing the same system, the best players win.”
Strachan anticipates a stern test against Jurgen Klinsmann’s side who are currently ranked 13th in the world.
“If you look at where their players are playing their club football, there are some really good players in their squad,” he said. “I also watch the MLS and I see other American players who are not in the squad at the moment and they’re not bad.
“I watched some of their games on DVD last night and I thought, ‘he’s a tall lad, he can run, he can do this’. They have some good players with athletic ability. That’s what they have about them, most of their sports are like that.”
Strachan will retain his faith in one of Scotland’s most athletic performers, right-back Alan Hutton, who will maintain his status as the only ever present in the national team’s starting line-up since the manager took charge last year.
Hutton keeps his place despite his ongoing banishment at Aston Villa, where he has not played any first team football this season.
“It’s the biggest mystery in football how Alan is not getting a game for someone,” said Strachan. “He has been brilliant for us. I look at games in the English Premier League every week, look at the right-backs on the pitch and I think ‘Alan is better than him, he’s better than him’ and so on.
“It’s very strange, because he has been outstanding in our games. It’s not as if he’s just getting away with it against teams down at 100th in the world rankings – he’s doing it against teams at the top of the world game like Belgium, England and Croatia.
“His situation is very, very strange. But is it getting more difficult to pick him? No, because whatever he is doing, he is keeping himself in good nick.”