SCOTLAND captain Scott Brown has welcomed the prospect of a battle of attrition in Skopje tonight and insists he and his team-mates will cope with any robust tactics deployed by Macedonia.
Mark McGhee, the Scotland assistant manager, has called for a “nasty” approach from the team against opponents who were involved in a fractious contest here last Friday night, when they defeated Wales 2-1.
Brown is more than willing to embrace McGhee’s mindset with the Celtic captain predicting Scotland will give as good as they get on a notoriously poor surface at the Philip II Arena. “They might come out and try to kick us off the park,” said Brown. “They did that against the Welsh lads. We are going to see if we get the ball down and play first and foremost. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll see what we can do.
“I don’t see why we can’t handle it. Our back four are huge and we’ve got Charlie Mulgrew playing in the middle of the park who is six foot plus. So we do have a few physical guys. I understand what Mark McGhee was saying. It’s not always going to be a pitch like Hampden where you can play good football.
“I’ve heard a few bits and bobs about Wales’ game here on Friday. A few of the lads have said Macedonia were quite physical. We’ll need to be physical, too. We’ve got a few big guys, even though we are not the tallest up front. But we have got good players who are short and sharp and can create chances.
“Like Mark said, we are not here to make friends and if we have to be nasty then so be it. If it means diving into a challenge that means you are taking a booking for the team, then that’s what we need to do. It happens now and again and it might stop a dangerous counter attack, so sometimes it has to be done.”
Brown is the only survivor in the Scotland squad from the starting line-up which featured in the 1-0 defeat in Skopje five years ago, the only previous meeting between the countries in Macedonia. “I remember it was really hot, the pitch wasn’t the best and we got beat,” he said. “But it’s a different team and a different manager now, so we’ll take it from there.
“I think we are a lot more organised than when we played here the last time. The last three games have showed you what we can do against some right good teams. We have competed well, played football and showed fighting spirit as well. Against a big Belgian side last Friday, we fought for every ball and once it was down on the deck we tried to play just as well as they did.”
From a personal perspective, Celtic captain Brown has been gratified by a start to the new season which has seen him able to play regularly for both club and country as he puts his well- documented injury problems behind him. “It’s been good and managing to get into the Champions League and playing games for Scotland has helped,” he said. “My fitness is still getting there but comparing last year to this season, there is a huge difference. I can train and I am involved in games. It’s enjoyable again.
“I’m pain-free and everything is fine. I can run, tackle and stretch these days as well. I didn’t do much of that before. Everything is back to the way it was a couple of seasons ago. It’s huge for me because coming into games without being able to train properly, then feeling sluggish in the first five or ten minutes never really helped me. I’ve no excuses now. I’m feeling fit and fresh and the more games the merrier for me.”