Craig Levein delight at ‘excellent result’ as Scots battle to draw in Slovenia
Craig Levein described last night’s sharing of the spoils with Slovenia as another significant step in the right direction.
Christope Berra’s 40th minute header cancelled out Andraz Kirm’s opener seven minutes earlier, scored also with his head, and gave Levein the kind of result he would have been delighted to achieve had it come in a competitive context.
Even though there was not a qualifying point to be gained from the 1-1 draw, the manager still regarded it as a highly satisfying night’s work at the Bonifika stadium in Koper. He described the performance of the lively James Forrest as the “prize” to be taken from the evening.
Levein knows that a draw in Slovenia is a notable achievement ahead of qualifiers for the World Cup finals in Brazil beginning in September. The opposition were selected in order to provide Scotland with experience of playing a team from south-east Europe, with games against Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia to come. “Overall it is an excellent result,” said Levein. “I know it’s only a friendly game. But it is important we keep improving.
“In the first hour of the game, I thought we did well. When both teams start to make a number of substitution it does affect the flow of the game. In the last half hour, certainly from our point of view, we dropped our level of performance.”
Levein made special mention of the younger players who featured last night against an experienced Slovenian team, and also praised the contribution from debutant Charlie Mulgrew. The Celtic defender was at fault for the first goal when he went to ground when challenging Miso Brecko, whose cross to the back post created the opener.
Russell Martin, playing in only his second game, was then beaten in the air by Kirm. However, Levein dismissed fears about their involvement in this phase of play, and described both Mulgrew and Martin as welcome additions to an ever-improving squad.
“The two full backs stepped in at the last minute and I thought they were both excellent,” said Levein. “These things happen. It’s a test of character. It’s a test of the players’ mental capabilities to get back into the game. Towards the end of the game we were under pressure from Slovenia and they made some great blocks.”
Levein reserved his highest praise for Forrest, who contributed another eye-catching display. He had been promoted to the top squad despite last night’s under-21 clash with the Netherlands at St Mirren Park, but Levein believes this decision was justified as the winger made another great stride towards becoming an automatic selection for Scotland.
“I did feel a bit for Starky [Billy Stark, the under 21 manager],” he said. “He [Forrest] was he best player for the under 21s in their last game against Holland. Taking him away denied Billy the opportunity to use him. They got a fantastic result tonight – 0-0. Maybe James staying with the under 21s might have helped improve that result. But, ultimately, as you can see from tonight’s performance, he is going to be playing with the national team, not the under-21s. The more game time he gets the better.”
“Perhaps the one who did his cause absolutely no harm whatsoever was young Forrest,” he added. “The prize for me tonight was his performance. It also very much justified taking him with us rather than leaving him to play with the under-21s. He has played a lot of big games for Celtic. That is the equivalent of playing international football. I didn’t expect anything else but a decent performance – but he probably surpassed that.
“It’s not just about him,” continued Levein. “I thought there were a lot of special performances tonight. The motto is keep improving. And hopefully by September we are ready to go.”
Given the proximity of the World Cup qualifiers, which kick off against Serbia in September, Levein knows that everything must be viewed in their context. “A lot of things make it worthwhile coming here,” he said. “If I have problems in midfield and James McArthur needs to play for me in Serbia, and Charlie Mulgrew and Russell Martin need to play, then they have some experience they did not have before this match. It’s a chance to bring them in and integrate them into the squad. There are a lot of positives. It’s been a worthwhile exercise.”
“I look through the team and see exciting players. And we are getting better. That, to me, is the important thing.
“I know we only have two more games to play before September. But coming away from home in a situation like this and not losing the game is important.”
Levein also acknowledged the Scotland supporters, who gathered in Slovenia in their usual healthy numbers.
“They are brilliant. They follow us everywhere. They are really vocal and the encouragement they give the players is fantastic. I am hoping they have seen enough tonight to make their journey seem worthwhile. When it comes down to it, it is all about what happens in September.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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