MARK McGhee has called on Scotland to get “nasty” as they attempt to clamber off the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group in Macedonia tomorrow night.
The Scotland assistant manager is anticipating a potentially fractious affair in Skopje against opponents who often adopted robust tactics in their 2-1 win over Wales on Friday night.
McGhee, who found it difficult to sleep after Scotland’s 2-0 loss at home to Belgium the same evening, began his preparations for the next assignment in Group A by watching a 5am re-run of the full 90 minutes between Macedonia and Wales.
The contest was peppered with flashpoints off the ball, including an angry clash between Macedonian captain Goran Pandev and Welsh playmaker Aaron Ramsey. Among those cautioned was dangerous forward, Agim Ibraimi, who is suspended tomorrow as a result.
Scotland arrived in a baking hot Skopje late yesterday afternoon with a forest fire burning on the hills next to Alexander The Great Airport to greet them.
They are without Robert Snodgrass, who picked up a suspension with his booking against Belgium, and the injured pair of Charlie Adam (back) and Jordan Rhodes (hand), who have been sent back to their clubs.
McGhee is anxious that the incremental signs of progress Scotland have shown in recent matches are bolstered by a return to winning ways. Gordon Strachan’s right-hand man believes the players under their guidance need to add a degree of malevolence to the sense of organisation and structure which has been instilled.
“We are coming here to fall out with people,” said McGhee. “I don’t really care if Macedonia come away and say ‘You know what, what a nasty bunch they were’, so long as we come away with a result. I said it to my club sides all the time and it’s the same with Scotland, I don’t want my players going out to make friends on the pitch. It’s all about winning games and you can’t be friends with the guy ill-treating you. You have to get right in about them. In Macedonia’s game against Wales, there were a lot of balls popping out and being miscontrolled. That always tempts people in. It was one of those games that was as much like a Championship game as any international you will see. I would expect more of the same on Tuesday.
“They had a great result against Wales, they are up for it and they will be as physical as they will be a football team. But I think they are entitled to be. It’s the World Cup. Even part of our game on Friday night, regardless of how skilled technically and cultured the Belgians were, was their physical strength. It was tremendous and they were prepared to put it about as well. They were prepared to knock people about.”
With Scotland’s seeding fate for the Euro 2016 qualifying draw now all but sealed, with a berth in Pot Four beckoning, the main concern for the management team in avoiding a bottom place finish in Group A is the damage it could do to morale.
“We’ve looked at all the implications and they are all psychological,” said McGhee. “Our ranking wouldn’t be affected by us finishing bottom. We’re going to be in pot four for the Euros. But I think that coming to Skopje and getting a positive result would help qualify the fact that we feel the last three games against Croatia, England and Belgium have represented a consistent model even though one result was great and two were poor in terms of the final result.
“I think we’ve established a way of playing both defensively and going forward. The football we play looks the same in each game and that should bring decent results in the end. This is a game where we would hope we would start to see that. In the last three games we have played top teams – two of them might have ambitions to win the World Cup. This game is back to our own level and we would hope to measure ourselves against this level of opposition more than any of the last three rivals.
“We feel that the progress we want will take longer than three games. Ultimately, we will only prove ourselves as a team and a management team if we qualify for the next tournament. Whatever happens in Macedonia we have to find reassurance that what we have seen in the last three games is real. We have a system that suits us a little bit better – but we can’t look much further ahead than this game. We will go to Macedonia and do the best we can on the same basis we have done in the last three games. I think as a nation our embarrassment at being bottom of the group would be tempered if we got a result.
“We could then take it on the chin and move on to the next competition. We don’t have a right not to finish bottom of a group – we have to earn that. Macedonia, Serbia, ourselves are much of a muchness and we are all scrapping for every point. To finish above bottom would be an achievement in itself taking that into account.”