SCOTLAND manager Craig Levein has seen his plans for tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifying rescue mission in Brussels dealt a double blow with the withdrawal of Celtic duo Scott Brown and James Forrest.
Brown was only able to play 45 minutes of last Friday night’s 2-1 defeat by Wales in Cardiff after succumbing once more to the effects of the degenerative hip problem which has restricted his appearances for both club and country this season.
He has been replaced by Cardiff City midfielder Don Cowie as Levein’s squad prepare to fly to Brussels today for the game against Group A leaders Belgium.
Winger Forrest was also forced to pull out yesterday. The 21-year-old suffered a groin injury in training last week and was unable to play any part against the Welsh, nor take part in training yesterday. The condition of both Brown and Forrest will also be a concern for Celtic manager Neil Lennon ahead of his team’s Champions League trip to Barcelona next week.
Hearts defender Andy Webster, who was not available for selection against Wales because of an ankle injury, remains doubtful for tomorrow night.
Scotland are already five points behind both Belgium and Croatia, prompting inevitable speculation over Levein’s future as manager. But despite winning only three of his 11 qualifying matches so far, the 47-year-old remains hopeful that he retains the backing of SFA chief executive Stewart Regan.
“He’s a strong man, a very strong man,” said Levein. “I want to do this job, certainly into the World Cup in Brazil. I’d love more than anything to be the Scotland manager going there and I still believe we’re capable. From my own point of view I’m extremely proud to have this job.
“I’m doing the best job I possibly can. There’s a lot of good things happening. I’m resilient, if nothing else, and I 100 per cent believe we’re heading in the right direction. Football is about results. I admit that. I mean, watching (the Wales game) I wonder ‘how the hell?’. I think sometimes things are sent to test you.
“I’m trying my damndest to build some kind of foundation and play a certain way. But we need to get a little break here and there, to let everybody see it is progressing..”
Levein is also confident that the players under his command remain fully supportive of him as manager. “If I thought for one second that those players were out there and not bursting a gut and doing everything they can to win that game, then I have got a problem,” he said.
“But I haven’t got that problem. I have got wide guys bursting a gut to get back to block shots and crosses and throwing themselves in front of the ball. I have two full-backs bursting the length of the park to try and help us get goals. I think we’re not far away, that’s the sickening thing for me. We’re not far away and I think every now and then you need that wee bit of encouragement. But football is about results, I admit that.”
Asked if he intended to speak to Regan about his position, Levein insisted he is solely focused on tomorrow night’s match in Belgium.
“I want us to concentrate on what’s possible on Tuesday,” he replied. “We’re one little ingredient away from getting it right and if I honestly thought we were heading in the wrong direction and it wasn’t working then that would be the time to have a discussion.”