Scott Brown got a taste of the agonies supporters have to endure on Thursday night as he sat watching Scotland’s last-gasp victory over Slovakia.
The suspended midfielder told Gordon Strachan afterwards that even in such high-pressure situations, being on the park is the only place to be. It’s why Strachan is comfortable being in the dugout tonight in Slovenia.
He might be the one charged with masterminding the win that is imperative for Scotland to qualify for next summer’s World Cup. But at least it’s in his hands to affect the outcome, as he did on Thursday.
With Brown watching from the sidelines, and most others in the Hampden crowd gnawing their fingers, the manager kept a cool head when selecting his substitutes. Two of them, Chris Martin and Ikechi Anya, combined to force Martin Skrtel into conceding a late own goal.
The supporters exploded with joy but had previously endured a painful night. That’s why Strachan is thinking of those inside the Stozice stadium tonight as well as those watching and listening at home.
“When the game starts the best place to be is on the park,” he said. “That’s what Broonie said to me the other night and he was right. If you’re on the pitch you can do something about it.
“But the second best place to be is where I’m standing. The rest is hard work for everybody else.
“I might not be out there but I can tell the boys ‘I’m here with you’. I can feel a part of it when you are there with the bodies round about you.
“The biggest problem I had the other night was when I went chasing after the ball and as I was running to it I thought, ‘I’m going to fall on my a*** here!’. I could see it appearing on YouTube. That was my biggest problem of the night.”
Strachan is expecting another nervous evening tonight. Scotland have mastered the art of scoring late on, certainly at Hampden, while Slovenia are ruing late goals conceded, the latest coming in injury-time in the 1-0 defeat by England on Thursday. Their manager, Srecko Katanec, joked yesterday that he wished all games could last 85 minutes. This would be a disaster for Scotland since five of their 15 goals to date in this campaign have been scored after the 86th minute.
“It shows we have a fitness level,” said Strachan. “People talk about mental strength but I could put you guys [reporters] out there and I know you’d try as hard as you could to get a victory for Scotland. But you couldn’t do it because you are not fit enough.
“You’d give it your best but you’d be knackered after 20 minutes. So you have to have the physical strength to keep the mental strength going.
“Our players have shown they have that in their locker. The fans know we have it in our locker as well.”
Without wanting to look too far ahead – the principal aim is to get there first – Strachan is conscious of the suspension fears over six members of the squad ahead of a possible play-off. Leigh Griffiths, Charlie Mulgrew, Grant Hanley, James Morrison, James McArthur and Barry Bannan are all a booking away from a ban.
Perhaps Griffiths is the greatest concern, since he has matured to become one of Scotland’s most important players in this campaign. “That is something I’ll have a conversation with him about,” said Strachan. “I’ll need to have a word.
“His performances of late have been terrific. I just thought he was magnificent the other night. His part in the goal was unbelievable. We had talked to them about pushing themselves that little bit more than you think you can. Then you see the way he stretched to get to the ball just to toe poke it through to Ikechi Anya. That toe poke won us the game.”