Gordon Strachan hailed what he regards as Scotland’s best performance of his managerial tenure so far after they defeated Slovenia 1-0 at Hampden to revive their 2018 World Cup qualifying hopes.
Substitute Chris Martin scored the only goal with two minutes remaining on a night when anything less than victory would almost certainly have spelled the end of Strachan’s time in charge of the national team.
“It was probably the best they have played under me,” said Strachan. “Everything went very well, considering we were giving away height and strength. They had to be at their best. We got that.
“I think you play pressure games quite a few times in your life. This was a big one. We were honest about that, we didn’t hide it, we knew how big it was. It’s not like we were hiding behind a cloak. We told the truth and dealt with it.
“I’m quite calm now and I was quite calm during the game. You get a bit emotional when things are not going well for your team. I can’t complain about that at any time.
“All you can ask as a manager is they go and do certain things. They did everything they were asked. They pushed themselves to another level out there.
“So I was calm enough – whatever will be, will be. I was enjoying their performance – the technical performance, the fitness performance and the mental strength. It could have been another hard luck story but I was okay because whatever happened, I was proud of what they were doing.”
Strachan was thrilled by Celtic midfielder Stuart Armstrong’s impressive Scotland debut and also had special praise for goalscorer Martin, who was jeered by some of the home fans when he replaced James Morrison in the closing stages.
“Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Gary McAllister used to get booed playing for Scotland – so it’s a great club to be in!” said Strachan.
“It was a sweet moment for Chris in particular, and the players. Because I think everybody knows we deserved to win that game tonight so it was a sweet moment for anybody who wanted to enjoy the victory with us.
“Stuart Armstrong was the best Scottish debut I’ve ever seen. He did well, but there were others who were special as well. We needed special performances because we were up against a very good and very physical side.”
The victory has intensified the race for second place in Group F with Scotland up into fourth spot, a point behind Slovenia and two points adrift of Slovakia, who themselves are four points adrift of leaders and likely automatic qualifiers England.
It was only Scotland’s third victory in their last ten competitive matches, the previous two having come against Gibraltar and Malta.
Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec had no complaints about the outcome, which saw his side suffer their first defeat of the campaign. It was the first time in four games they had conceded.
“Scotland deserved to win the game,” said Katanec. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to do tonight. I pick the team and I take responsibility for that. It was a poor performance from our team.”