Andrew Robertson couldn’t believe the reception as he walked out for Scotland’s final group match against Gibraltar in Faro two years ago. By then, yet another qualifying quest was over and hopes of joining the other home nations at the European Championships had once again been bludgeoned into submission. There was a modicum of pride to be played for that night, but little else.
Tonight against Slovenia, the stakes will be higher. Victory over Slovakia on Thursday means that Scotland have still got a say in whether they will be at the World Cup in Russia next summer and the Liverpool full-back in relishing the prospect.
“Gibraltar was the strangest game I think I’ve had,” he said. “It felt as if we’d just qualified and we’d probably won the group the way the fans reacted. It was just them thanking us for our efforts but we let them down. This time we can hopefully make them proud of this team, reach the play-offs and then deal with that.
“But we know how tough a game it was against Slovenia at home – and it’ll be no different away from home. We’ve got to be 100 per cent and if we are we hopefully get the three points.”
The late own goal from Slovakia leaves Gordon Strachan’s men two points clear in second place, but only a fourth successive win away to Slovenia will ensure they finish in that position and all-but guarantee them one of the play-off places. Robertson believes they have the momentum and the wherewithal to get the job done.
“The last couple of campaigns, we’ve gone into the last game with nothing to play for. We went into the Gibraltar game away last and I think everyone remembers how brilliant the fans were that day. And we were playing for nothing.
“It certainly doesn’t have the same feeling this time, I’m sure the whole country will be buzzing and everyone will be watching it wherever they are. We are on a run and we just need to keep it going for one more game to get to a play-off.”
Slovenia had harboured such ambitions themselves until defeat to England stymied that dream, but Robertson still expects stiff opposition. In the last meeting it took Scotland 88 minutes to find the breakthrough, that Chris Martin goal just one of many late contributions from a side who have required patience, perseverance and belief to make it this far.
The draw against Lithuania early in the campaign threatened to derail things but the fact the team snatched a last-gasp equaliser allowed them to salvage something from that game, while it took two late goals from Leigh Griffiths to grab a point against England, even if the Auld Enemy struck even later to leave everyone feeling like it had been a defeat.
In such a campaign, it seems fitting that the agony or, hopefully, the ecstasy is being stretched out as long as possible and the experience of the must-win nature of recent games, allied to that indefatigable spirit, is something Scotland can tap into this evening, according to Robertson, who has made himself available despite injuring his wrist during his man of the match performance on Thursday.
‘We’ve had must-win games recently as we’ve gone along. I hope that helps. We knew that if we drew or lost that was us out. So, as a nation, we go over there believing we can get in the play-offs. And hopefully it’s a day of joy at the end.”
There was unbridled joy at the end of Thursday’s game, with Robertson referring to the fans as the 12th man and calling for similar backing today. Insisting he will never forget the noise at the England game, he said the response in midweek was “different class”.
“They got us over the finishing line. If you look back a year to after Lithuania at home, everyone thought that was the campaign over. The next couple of home games, no one really showed up. There was only maybe 30,000 or whatever at Slovenia and that’s not like us.
“But the fans have come back and that’s credit to the boys because we’ve obviously been doing it on the pitch. We’re maybe in a position that people never thought we’d be in but we’ve never doubted ourselves and luckily we’re going into the last game looking for something.”