Craig Levein stays calm, but Scotland victory vital to ignite campaign
ALTHOUGH you will have been hard-pressed to find Craig Levein saying so in any of his pre-match briefings yesterday, Scotland face what most consider to be their latest must-win match against FYR Macedonia this evening.
• St Mirren goalkeeper joins squad amid concerns for Allan McGregor and Matt Gilks
• Charlie Adam also an injury doubt ahead of Macedonia tie
The manager’s preparations for a game in which Scotland must look to reclaim some lost ground after Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Serbia have been bit by further injury worries, with the most serious of these involving goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Matt Gilks.
McGregor has aggravated the groin injury that had looked set to sideline him Saturday’s match. Having taken an injection to make his debut for Besiktas the previous weekend, the ‘keeper had declared himself fit and helped Scotland avoid slipping to defeat with a late save from Serbia striker Dusan Tadic.
Complicating the matter is the injury sustained by Gilks, who would have been his likely deputy. The Blackpool ‘keeper has also sustained a groin strain while training on Sunday. St Mirren’s Craig Samson has been called up by Levein as a precautionary measure, with Cardiff City’s David Marshall likely to play if McGregor fails to make the starting line-up. The manager confirmed that Scotland would not put the ‘keeper in the position of having to agree to taking another pain-killing injection in order to play. “Injuries happen but what we don’t is play the boy if he is not fit,” said Levein yesterday. “There is no point in that for us or for them [Besiktas].
Levein said he would would have “no hesitation, absolutely none” in naming Marshall as No 1 tonight if both McGregor and Gilks are ruled out of the Group A fixture. “Of course it is a worry that two of our goalkeepers are in this position.”
With reference to McGregor, Levein added: “I don’t know how much of a worry he is at this stage because he’s that laid-back,” he said. “He just says: ‘aye, I’ll be all right. He played with an injection for his club but it’s a different thing altogether to do that with the national team,” he added. “He’ll decide if he’s fit enough or not.”
They are worries Levein could do without as he continues to deal with the fall-out following Saturday’s home draw, when jeers greeted the final whistle. The manager described the reaction as “hysterical” and accused some members of the media of pursuing an agenda. He said he did not read too much into the sharp burst of boos that echoed around Hampden at the end, after the frustration felt at the disappointing goal-less draw had been compounded by Levein’s decision to hand Jordan Rhodes only nine minutes of playing time at the end.
“How many people [was it]?” he asked. “That is the point I am trying to make. Ninety per cent of the people are there to support Scotland. We had 48,000 people there. I have been manager at Hearts and Dundee United and other places and there are games when your supporters come along and they feel frustrated. That happens, it is not unusual. I am saying to the supporters, thanks for your support on Saturday. I thought they got right behind the team.”
He described much of the coverage of Saturday’s match as “an over-reaction to a decent performance”. Levein insisted that having sat through Saturday’s game again, “the more I watch it, the happier I am”. Kenny Miller is expected to continue as long front man against a side ranked 97 in the world, although James Forrest and James Mackie could be called upon to provide the “high tempo” Levein said will be needed to break down the opposition. Rhodes, who the Tartan Army were frustrated had been left on the bench until so late against Serbia, is set to feature among the substitutes again tonight.
Levein described the pressure being applied on the 22 year old as “unfair”. The manager has also been angered by those who have written-off Scotland’s chances of qualifying from Group A after just one game. “I would be disappointed if we don’t pick up any points on Tuesday,” said Levein. “But it is important [to remember] the competition is decided at the end. I have been a wee bit annoyed at the kind of hysterical reaction after Saturday. There were 30 points to play for, we got one on Saturday and there are still 27 to play for. For me it is all about the long game.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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