Gordon Strachan has attempted to ease pressure on his players before what most supporters feel is a must-win game by claiming failure to beat Lithuania is not necessarily fatal.
The memory of two points slipping through fingers in the final moments against England in June remains painfully vivid. But Strachan says he won’t give up on reaching the World Cup finals in Russia even if Scotland fail to gain a much needed three points in tonight’s Group F clash in Vilnius.
Scotland tend to struggle on such assignments. The manager was giving few clues to his selection before training last night except to confirm midfielder Darren Fletcher has not travelled due to a knee injury, the extent of which he said: “You will have to ask Stoke City”.
Fletcher’s involvement would likely have been limited to a substitute’s appearance at best in any case. But Strachan conceded his experience will be missed on what promises to be a tense night.
The manager has taken a leaf out of the book of one of his predecessors. He remembered Jock Stein leaning heavily on Liverpool players such as Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish during the club’s trophy-laden 1980s period, conscious of their ability to find a way to prevail.
Strachan hinted at all six Celtic players in the squad being involved after their recent experiences of high-pressure games when qualifying for the Champions League group stage. But he refuted a suggestion Scotland must win to sustain hopes of reaching Russia.
“You don’t just have to win the game,” he said. “If you get a point and you win the next three games then that is 10 points.
“You couldn’t tell me 10 [more] points couldn’t do it,” he added. “That is why it isn’t a must-win. We are going to try and play like it is a must-win, but play it in a way where we don’t try and win it by being silly and you lose it.
“What you have got to do is use the experience of the players that are there, like the boys in the Celtic team.
“They have played in games like this so you use their experience. I am sure Jock Stein used all the Liverpool boys’ experience in that way when they were winning things. I am no different.”
Scotland’s attempt to gain three points could be compromised by the synthetic turf, which was well watered last night before their training session.
Strachan has sought and apparently received an assurance from the Lithuanian Football Federation that the pitch at the LFF stadium will be treated with the same amount of water tonight.
He recalled an experience with Celtic against Spartak Moscow in a Champions League qualifier a decade ago when the Russian side’s synthetic pitch was left dry the night before at training. Celtic were surprised when it was watered before the game and spent the first portion of the match trying to keep their feet.
Lithuania head coach Edgaras Jankauskas confirmed the pitch will be hosed down again tonight, “to make the pitch less dangerous.”
Strachan seemed reassured. “I don’t think the pitch will be left dry,” he said. “It’s to be watered and we’ve asked that the same amount of water is put on it as there is tonight for our training session.
“I remember when I was at Celtic we went and played in Moscow and it was bone dry when we trained on it.
“After we did the warm-up they went out and watered it with an immense amount of water and our players were slipping all over the place for the first 20 minutes.
“So we’ve just asked the people here to make sure it’s the same amount of water tonight as there will be tomorrow.
“That should give the players a good indication of how the pitch should play.”