Gordon Strachan has accepted Scotland are now under increased pressure to secure a pivotal away victory in what he describes as a “crazy” 2018 World Cup qualifying group.
The disappointing 1-1 draw against Lithuania at Hampden on Saturday has intensified scrutiny of the Scotland manager ahead of tomorrow night’s match against Slovakia in Trnava.
Strachan remains determined to accentuate the positives he sees in his team who now sit in second place in Group F, two points behind top seeds England who are the only side to have taken maximum points from the first two rounds of fixtures.
But as he prepares to face the second-seeded Slovaks, who have surprisingly lost both of their games so far, Strachan admits the dropped points against Lithuania mean the onus is firmly on Scotland to redress the balance by achieving a positive result tomorrow.
Failure to record a notable away victory undermined Strachan’s squad in the unsuccessful Euro 2016 campaign in which their only win on the road came against the minnows of Gibraltar.
With a 5-1 away win over bottom seeds Malta already under their belts in the current campaign, the focus is now firmly on the need to take full points from more daunting assignments such as the one the Scots face tomorrow evening.
“We would also hope to take something from this away game,” said Strachan. “But yes, of course we need something now. The less you win, the more you need to pick up points further on. That’s common sense.
“The difference between the last campaign and this one could be getting a big result away from home. That would make the difference – a big, big result away from home.
“So we’ve got one result away from home in Malta, which was probably expected. But when you see they then only conceded two goals against England at Wembley on Saturday, you think we were fine.
“But we definitely need that big result away from home somewhere along the line. Tuesday night is an opportunity. There are four opportunities to do it and we need to get at least one of those big results away from home if we are going to qualify.
“I think this is going to be a crazy group. It’s a crazy group already. From Pot 2 in the draw, Slovakia haven’t got any points yet, although that’s from two hard games against England and Slovenia.
“I don’t know if a win for us in Slovakia would take them out of the running. But it would make it very hard for them, that’s for sure.
“Slovenia got a draw in Lithuania, but Lithuania could have been 3-0 up before they were pegged back. So it is a crazy group. If it wasn’t a crazy group, then the team from Pot 2 would finish second - and we are from Pot 4.
“If it wasn’t crazy, then it would be quite simple – we could just go home right away because we are the Pot 4 team. So you are hoping that you will have enough in your locker to get the job done and get there.”
Speaking at Scotland’s Mar Hall base after his squad trained yesterday morning, Strachan provided a positive update on captain Darren Fletcher’s thigh injury which forced him off at half-time on Saturday and was initially expected to rule him out of the flight to Slovakia today.
“We thought it was a thigh strain but it’s actually just a dead leg which has swollen,” he said. “Darren had no power in it. But he will travel with us and we’ll just have to see how he is for Tuesday.”
Defenders Callum Paterson and Russell Martin both picked up minor knocks but are expected to be available for selection again as Strachan considers refreshing his side.
“We always had that in mind when we got together because we knew these were going to be two hard games,” he added. “Whether it is changes through injuries or having a look at a different way of playing, there will be changes.
“I told the players this morning that I saw good things in the game on Saturday night. Things that, if we do them again, with a finishing pass and a finishing goal, then I’m very happy to go again.
“I do believe we can play better as a group and as individuals. I do believe that we had enough chances to beat Lithuania at the end of the game. There were individual performances in there where you go ‘That was fine’. But we’re looking for a bit more.
“We need to be better, I think, or luckier. But we would rather put the luck aside and play really well to get a result.”