STEVEN Naismith is confident September’s critical trip to Tbilisi will be different to Scotland’s last disastrous visit to the Georgian capital because of their new-found mental toughness.
The striker was in his first season with Rangers when Alex McLeish’s Scotland side came to grief against Georgia in October 2007. Needing a win to all but book their passage to the Euro 2008 finals, they lost 2-0 against a side fielding a 17-year-old novice goalkeeper.
Naismith is, perhaps, glad not to have been involved. He made his international debut a few months earlier against the Faroe Isles but was considered too inexperienced for such a vital assignment.
The match still haunts the Scottish psyche and the maroon strip in which they played that evening has not been seen again since. But Naismith, who now has 38 caps, believes the current Scotland side won’t suffer such a depressing setback on 4 September, when their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign re-commences against the fifth placed team in the group.
Naismith referenced recent Scotland performances where they have secured something after going a goal behind, Saturday’s battling 1-1 draw with Republic of Ireland included.
“We have a strong mentality,” he said. “In the game against Poland, towards the end we were under the cosh a bit but we stood strong and even at times against Ireland it was the same. We have improved in that way. But Georgia will be a massive game and it is one we will not be taking lightly. Ireland were lucky to win there with two goals in the last minutes, so we know it is not going to be easy.”
Scotland have 11 points from six games and would ideally want all three points from their trip to play Georgia, who have not got going in this qualifying campaign since conceding a last-minute winner to Ireland in their opening game.
Although he described Scotland’s 1-0 win over the Georgians at Ibrox in October as “comfortable”, Naismith has stressed that Scotland will take nothing for granted in September. Over-confidence was identified as one reason for the defeat in Tbilisi eight years ago.
“In terms of this point [v Ireland], I have said all along if you win your home games and take a point when you are playing away, you’ve got a good chance,” said Naismith. “The Georgia game becomes the most important one because it’s the next one. The biggest thing is we won’t be taking them lightly.
“We won 1-0 at home but it was very comfortable. Away from home it will be a far different game. They’ll have the crowd behind them and we’ll definitely have to have our eye on the ball in that game.”
Naismith is convinced that Scotland now have the upper hand over Ireland, who remain two points adrift of their opponents in Dublin at the weekend. “Without a doubt,” he said. “You just look at the two squads after the match and we are definitely more upbeat than the Irish players.”
He is, however, happy the two bruising meetings with Martin O’Neill’s side are now out of the way. “The majority of players are playing in the English Premier League and playing for top teams, but you probably wouldn’t have guessed that on the showing from both teams in the two matches,” he said. “That’s down to the whole atmosphere and build-up to it.”