Gordon Strachan is confident Scotland can end England’s long unbeaten run in qualifying matches when international football’s oldest rivals meet at Hampden on 10 June.
The Scotland manager, buoyed by his team’s display in the 1-0 win over Slovenia on Sunday night, believes a repeat of that performance level could be sufficient to further revive their 2018 World Cup qualifying hopes with victory over Group F leaders England.
The size of the challenge facing the Scots is illustrated by England’s remarkable undefeated sequence in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers which they stretched to 34 games with their 2-0 win over Lithuania at Wembley on Sunday.
England have not lost a qualifying fixture since October 2009 when they went down 1-0 in Ukraine.
At the halfway point of the current campaign, Scotland are now fourth in Group F. They trail England by six points but are just two points behind second-placed Slovakia and only one point adrift of Slovenia.
Strachan’s squad still face an uphill task even to claim runners-up spot in the section which could earn a place in the play-offs to reach next year’s World Cup finals in Russia. But with three of their remaining five fixtures at Hampden, the Scots are at least back in contention.
It was widely accepted that Strachan’s time as Scotland boss would have come to an end if he had failed to oversee a win against Slovenia. The 60-year-old, who has won 16 of his 35 games in charge of the national team, now has no doubts Scotland are capable of claiming all three points against England this summer.
“Yeah, we can beat them here if we achieve that standard of performance,” said Strachan whose main concern between now and 10 June is that the strikers in his squad are given more regular playing time at their clubs.
He was satisfied with the contribution of Leigh Griffiths, despite the Celtic striker missing one glorious chance before limping out of the action just after half-time with a back injury. He feels Griffiths’ lack of involvement with the Scottish champions, where he has not started a match since December, was a mitigating factor.
“What I would like is for players to get a regular game now, a real regular game, in the up front area,” added Strachan.
“I think a Leigh Griffiths who has played in the last 10 games for Celtic scores those chances for us on Sunday. I think he does that. But it is not easy when you aren’t playing regularly to come out and hit the crossbar and hit the post and keep going, but he did it.
“He won’t be downhearted by missing the chances, not at all. How can you get down-hearted by leading the line and leading a performance that is as good as we have seen here for a long time? I think Leigh should be very proud of that.
“To be fair, it was a big call whichever striker we played. We have five and only one of them gets a game for their club at the moment. Even then, Jordan Rhodes has only been getting that in the last four weeks. So Leigh did a lit of good things for us. You could see the size of Slovenia’s centre-halves. He was getting knocked and shoved but he got back up again.
“When you see that from further behind on the pitch, the other guys will say ‘Oh, I’ll join in here’. That’s what happened. I don’t think anyone in our team played badly. Everybody was fantastic.
“It was a strange, strange feeling for me during the game. There was no real stress for it. When they started off playing I thought ‘that’s what we’re trying to achieve, that’s what we used the game the other night against Canada for, to find out who could run, who was fit and who could play with each other’. Was it the most satisfying win of my time as manager? I think the satisfying bit comes when you go in the dressing room and they are all leaping about, jumping and singing. It is a pity we don’t see each other for a long time now.”
Hampden is certain to be a sell-out for the visit of England, in stark contrast to Sunday night when just over 20,000 were inside the national stadium. Strachan was not surprised by the degree of apathy his team’s previous results in the campaign had created among the support.
“It’s understandable,” he said. “It’s not like I am sitting around saying ‘Och, I can’t believe they haven’t turned up’. Of course I can understand that. If you aren’t playing well at anything then nobody really wants to go and see you. If you play well, they do. But I don’t feel it’s offensive to me or the players. That’s just life. At any stadium in the world, if you don’t play well people don’t turn up. There have been stadiums in Scotland in the last couple of years which haven’t been full. If you get the right stuff, then you’re fine.”
Strachan, meanwhile, would not be drawn on the international future of Scott Brown who was captain against Slovenia. The Celtic skipper reversed his decision to retire from Scotland duty earlier this season but has so far not committed himself to being available for the England match which takes place just two weeks before the Scottish champions resume pre-season training ahead of their Champions League qualifiers next season.
“Listen, we will just get over this game just now,” replied Strachan. “I thought Scott was back to his best as well. We could be here all night talking about good players. No, the guys want to play, that’s the thing. If anybody wants to play, it’s not a problem.”