SHAUN Maloney has echoed the thoughts of his Scotland manager Gordon Strachan by insisting tonight’s clash against Macedonia has taken on extra importance as they try to avoid the embarrassment of finishing bottom of their World Cup qualifying group.
Scotland sit on five points in the six-team Group A, one behind Wales two behind Macedonia and a further point adrift of Serbia. Wales host Serbia in Cardiff tonight, but Strachan’s men only have two matches to turn it around with second-placed Croatia due to visit Hampden next month.
Maloney wants to ensure the positive vibes around the squad are not cancelled out by the ignominy of propping up the table. The last time it happened to Scotland was when Strachan was in the squad himself during qualifying for Euro 84, when they finish bottom of a tough group which included Belgium, Switzerland and East Germany.
Maloney, like Strahcan is determined that will never happen again, and as he prepared for tonight’s clash in Skopje, he said: “When we played Macedonia at Hampden it was a tough match so it will be something similar, but we have obviously got pride about ourselves and we don’t want to finish bottom of the group.
“I think we have all noticed a slight change in the feeling about the squad in the last few games and we would obviously like to carry that on and particularly for the players the manager has brought into the squad.”
Scotland’s past three games have come against teams who all currently sit in the top 14 of the world, with defeats by England and Belgium failing to derail all of the progress made during victory over Croatia in June.
Wigan playmaker Maloney said: “We will take heart from the last few games. But it’s going to be tough. I know we drew at Hampden (against Macedonia) but I think for large parts they were worthy of maybe a little bit more.
“It’s tough but we have to make it very difficult for them to beat us and then hopefully produce something a bit more creative in the final third. Obviously the onus is on myself and a few other players to do that.”
Scotland will be without Jordan Rhodes (broken hand) and Charlie Adam (back strain) after they pulled out of the squad on Sunday while Robert Snodgrass is suspended following his booking against Belgium on Friday night. Strachan hinted yesterday that Steven Naismith will be handed the role of lone striker and will be preferred to Leigh Griffiths, who led the line in the 2-0 defeat to Belgium on Friday.
Celtic winger James Forrest sat out training as a precaution but is expected to be available.