Mickey Thomas taunts ‘worst Scotland team ever’

IF THE Scotland squad were in need of any extra motivation for Friday’s World Cup qualifying match at Hampden, it was helpfully supplied for them yesterday when former Wales player Mickey Thomas labelled them the worst bunch of players ever to represent their country.

As Scotland coach Gordon Strachan called up Barry Bannan in place of the injured James Morrison and the Welsh camp expressed their confidence that the talismanic Gareth Bale would be fit for the Group A game, it was Thomas who grabbed the attention with his provocative assessment. The ex-West Ham and Manchester United winger said that Wales had the quality to win whether Bale played or not, and compared Strachan’s current crop of players unfavourably to some of the Scots he played against.

“Wales should go there and get a victory, whether Bale is in the side or not,” said Thomas, who won 51 caps for his country between 1976 and 1986. “Make no mistake about it – this Scotland team is the worst Scotland team they’ve ever had.

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“I played against the likes of [Kenny] Dalglish, [Graeme] Souness and [Alan] Hansen. They were a great team – they don’t have that no more. They haven’t got a top player.

“We saw in Cardiff, they have nothing really of quality to hurt [Wales].”

Wales beat Craig Levein’s Scotland 2-1 in that match last October, the only points they have gleaned from their four matches to date. The Scots have two points, from draws against Serbia and Macedonia, having lost to Belgium in their last match under Levein. Scotland are currently 66th in the Fifa world rankings, five places higher than Wales and an improvement of six places from the end of 2012. Their lowest position since the rankings began was 86th in 2004, their highest, the 14th place briefly attained in 2007.

Thomas, who has never shied away from controversy, continued his career until 1993, when he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his involvement in a counterfeit currency racket. His time at Old Trafford ended in 1981, three years before Strachan joined United from Aberdeen.

Strachan, for whom this is his first competitive fixture in charge of the national side following last month’s friendly win over Estonia, brought in Aston Villa midfielder Bannan after West Brom’s Morrison was forced to pull out because of a hamstring injury sustained while playing against Stoke. It is the fourth change the manager has been forced to make since naming his squad last week, and follows the loss on Monday of James Forrest, Danny Fox and Ross McCormack.

Steven Whittaker was called in two days ago to bolster Strachan’s defensive options as the manager works out how best to quell the threat of Bale, who scored both of his country’s goals in that first qualifier between the teams five months ago. The Tottenham player took an ankle knock in his club’s defeat by Fulham on Sunday and has yet to train since, but team-mate Sam Vokes expressed his confidence in the 23-year-old’s availability.

“We think he is going to be fit,” the Burnley striker said. “He is in and around the team and will be training in the next couple of days with Friday in mind.

“It is fantastic to play alongside him. The last couple of goals I have scored for Wales have come from his assists, and he turned the Scotland game on its head.

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“He has been different class for club and country for a while now. Every game he plays in he is excellent and he will be a big player for us on Friday.”

Having beaten Austria in a friendly since their last game against Scotland, Wales are in far better form than their lowly world ranking might suggest, and Vokes believes a third victory in a row will bolster the already burgeoning confidence of the squad. “It would be a huge step forward,” he said.

“We can take confidence from our recent results against some strong opposition. It will be a different sort of game on Friday as you will have the occasion of it being a derby but, hopefully, we can take confidence into the game. It is a Battle of Britain, which adds to the passion and pride that goes with it. There was a great atmosphere here in Cardiff and it will be the same again this time. They have gone through a manager change recently and it is one they will look for a good reaction from. But we need to focus on our own game and go from there.”

Vokes scored in the 2-1 win over Austria last time out, and is the only player other than Bale to score for Wales since Chris Coleman took over as manager. With Steve Morison again missing because of injury,

Coleman may start Vokes up front, although he will also consider playing Craig Bellamy or Bale there.

“Steve has made a lot of his chance in the number nine slot, and it has been up to me to make an impact off the bench,” Vokes added. “Hopefully Friday is a big chance for me, although Craig Bellamy started there against Austria so it depends which way the manager wants to go. But I want to put my name forward.”

Vokes and Thomas were not the only ones feeling a surge of confidence in Wales. Former captain Barry Horne was also dismissive of Scotland’s chances, claiming that, man for man, the Welsh are superior and should win at Hampden.

“I expect Wales to win in Scotland,” said former Everton midfielder Horne. “That will paint a rosy picture. We need to do something against Croatia because the two away games were very poor.

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“I hate to say it but, realistically, if the campaign has not gone for us completely, it has certainly started to slip away from us.

We have to be brutally honest about that.”

Horne, who won 59 caps for Wales, also dismissed the theory that Strachan’s arrival would galvanise Scotland, claiming that the feelgood factor created by his first game in charge – the 1-0 friendly win over Estonia last month – had already eased.

“He has had his first game, he has had that reaction,” addedHorne. “We have better players than them. That is the top and bottom of it. The Scots will have a decent and passionate crowd, but we have got better players.”