Saturday 20 January 2018

Strachan tries to pick up pieces as plane farce adds to Scottish woes

Gordon Strachan denies he has limited options
Gordon Strachan denies he has limited options

Ewan Murray

At least Gordon Strachan was not denied ample time to run through Scotland's shortcomings during the painful defeat to Georgia. Eleven hours after full-time in Tbilisi on Friday evening, the Scottish party touched down at Glasgow airport owing to delays and scenes that undermined any claims by the country's Football Association that they preside over an operation which is remotely serious.

The sight of shattered international footballers sitting around for a further 30 minutes before baggage appeared - they had spent back-to-back flights in ridiculously cramped conditions as office bearers made the most of their extra legroom - would have been laughable if not so important.

It is not as if preparation might be deemed significant, with world champions Germany due to visit Hampden Park tomorrow. Thankfully for the association, Roy Keane has no reason to concern himself with their arrangements around key fixtures.

Strachan's most immediate task was to reschedule training sessions on account of travel farce. Thereafter, he was charged with raising morale among a squad that has relinquished terrific opportunity because of the Georgian defeat. It is debatable, by Strachan's own admission, whether mental scars will outweigh physical ones.

"There will be both but that's part of a professional footballer's life, whether it's an international or club footballer," the manager said. "You have to deal with that disappointment. It's great if you don't have to deal with it too much; this one has come after a couple of years of decent performances and we were a couple of passes away from having another one.

"When you're trying to achieve something, and it's happened a lot throughout my career, there is a target you are trying to get to. It never runs smoothly. Something happens on the way to that target. So we keep that in mind. It's not the first time it's happened in our careers. So keep that in mind. It doesn't take away from the disappointment now, this moment in time. I'm hugely disappointed.

"But I'm hugely disappointed for the players. They are trying to do the right things.

"Unfortunately it wasn't our night. Like a golfer who plays some good stuff and just misses the putt, we were a couple of feet away from some good moves."

"You will say we never had many shots on goal and I agree but you are not going to make many chances because we just don't have the physical presence to throw a ball in there."

Strachan denied that final point was a nod to his frustration at a lack of attacking options. Scotland's 4-2-3-1 system has been set in stone for some time now but in Georgia there was an obvious lack of a plan B after falling behind to a team who defended with physicality and aggression.

"Maybe I have them [alternatives] and I've not discovered them yet," Strachan said. "I don't feel limited, it's up to me to find that secret if it's out there. If it's not out there, then I have to try to find something to make us more rounded.

"I don't see us making loads of chances against Germany. We have to get better passes and crosses in and if we do get a couple of them then we can take our chances and score."

Perhaps Strachan and his team have been recipients of over-praise. It is an improvement for Scotland to be part of a qualifying discussion with so few matches to play. If you strip away tactics and coaching philosophy, it remains the case that the nation cannot lay claim to a single world-class player.

Strachan had always maintained throughout a pedestrian German opening to Group D that tomorrow's opponents would come good. There was, naturally, a period of adjustment following the World Cup win. True to Strachan's prediction, Friday's success over the Poland team who had earlier defeated them moved Germany two points clear at the summit of the section.

The Scots have slipped to fourth, a scenario that will prove even more ominous if the Republic of Ireland defeat Georgia in Dublin while the Hampden encounter is under way. Scotland still have Gibraltar to play but are suddenly in the position where earlier fixtures against Germany and Poland must return significant reward.

"I would think so now," said Strachan when asked if a draw with Germany is the minimum his team need. "We are not going to play for a point but that would keep everybody still in it, that's for sure. But you don't know what's going to happen elsewhere. You never know, on Monday night at 12 o'clock we might all be feeling wee a bit different or it might be another battle on our hands with two games left.

"We have to all do it together. The coaches, the supporters, everybody who wants us to do well, it's a good time to help us. There are disappointed bodies down there so they need a bit of help. If they see that help, physically and mentally, then I am sure they will react. If they are only going to get help from me and the coaching staff then so be it."


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