Matt Ritchie has insisted Scotland’s 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania is merely a “little bump” on the road he still believes can lead all the way to the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
The Newcastle United winger, who was Scotland’s International Player of the Year last season, is confident the loss of two points at Hampden last Saturday night will not prove fatal to ambitions of qualifying from Group F.
Echoing the defiantly upbeat signals being emitted by manager Gordon Strachan in the aftermath of the Lithuania game, Ritchie also “expects” Scotland to win in Slovakia tonight to help redress the balance of a campaign he feels will go right to the wire.
“You don’t ever qualify for a World Cup easily,” said the 27-year-old former Bournemouth player, who is in line to win his 13th cap in Trnava.
“You don’t do it by winning every game in the campaign, it just doesn’t work out that way. This is a tough group and we came across a little bump against Lithuania. Now we want to get back to winning ways.
“It’s a long campaign, it isn’t all about Saturday’s game or Tuesday night’s game. But we want to pick up as many points as possible and we go into the game against Slovakia planning for a victory and expecting one as well.
“We were never going to get through this group without dropping points and we’ve done that now. Yes, we were the favourites and expected to win against Lithuania. So it was obviously a disappointing result, because we set out to get all three points, but football doesn’t always go the way you want it to.
“The way we started against Lithuania meant that we didn’t get control of the game. We wanted to dominate a bit more but we weren’t quite good enough.
“Fortunately, we improved and in the second half we were probing in and around their box for long periods.
“We need to start more aggressively against Slovakia, but we can’t afford to be too gung-ho. If you throw the kitchen sink in, then you can be caught on the counter and that nearly happened against Lithuania when they had a chance to make it 2-0.
“I don’t think that was a turning point, though, because we had much more of the ball after the break. We got it wide and created a lot of chances. We had good possession but we just weren’t clinical enough in the final third.
“You’ve got to be careful at this level and just make sure that you’re always still in the game. There was a lot of time-wasting from Lithuania but you’ve got to expect that. They were delighted to find themselves in the position of being 1-0 up and they went down for no reason on four or five occasions. That’s frustrating but you just have to get on with it.
“That’s part and parcel of football and, as a player, you have to deal with that. We were certainly better in the second half than we had been earlier on and we used our possession in a more positive way. We got some good balls into the box as well.
“The second half at least saw us put in a much-improved performance and, in the end, after we’d got the equaliser, we looked like scoring again in those last few minutes.
“Even though we’re disappointed right now with the result on Saturday, we may look back on it in a couple of months’ time and regard it as a good point.”
While positive Scotland can win tonight, Ritchie is also wary of the reaction from a Slovakian side who are pointless after their first two games in the group.
“They’ll have the bit between their teeth trying to put that right so it’s going to be a tough game for us,” he said.
“However, they’ll also be under a lot of pressure because they haven’t had a great start and they know that they need to get something from this one. Hopefully that can work to our advantage.”