TIME SCOTS WERE PICTURE PERFECT
Gibraltar snapshot with supporters left Robertson amazed — now he wants proper fanfare in Slovenia
AS A young man whose manners will not desert him at the discovery of considerable fame and riches, Andrew Robertson will never stand accused of turning down a picture for the supporters.
There was one unique example a couple of years ago, however, that made the Scotland left-back feel a little bit uncomfortable. The request came from Gordon Strachan.
The snapshot was taken on what Robertson regards as one of the most curious occasions of his career. A meaningless thumping of Gibraltar in Faro, Portugal, followed by a photograph as a reminder of a failure.
There was well-meaning behind the move for the entire Scots squad and staff to gather together for a picture with the loyal, travelling Tartan Army in the background.
It was a display of gratitude following a qualifying campaign that had fed them an oversized portion of false hope. Scotland finished a dismal fourth in their group.
Yet strains of ‘There’s Only One Gordon Strachan’ were heard repeatedly through the routine 6-0 success from a largely Scottish crowd in the audience of 12,401. The emotional manager felt compelled to act.
So if that was a show of the special bond between fans, players and boss in the wake of huge disappointment three days earlier against Poland (a heartbreaking 2-2 draw), what on earth might the reaction be for getting out of a section?
The answer can arrive tonight in Slovenia. Exactly two years on, Robertson and company have a reason to celebrate the final night of group fixtures — a place in the play-offs to reach the World Cup finals in Russia next year.
‘Gibraltar was the strangest game,’ said Robertson. ‘It felt as if we had just qualified or won the group the way the fans reacted.
‘It was just them thanking us for our efforts. But we let them down. I think everyone remembers how brilliant the fans were that day. And we were playing for nothing.
‘This time, hopefully we can make them proud of this team again and reach the play-offs.
‘I’m sure the whole country will be buzzing and everyone will be watching the game wherever they are.
‘But we know how tough it was against Slovenia at Hampden — and it will be no different away from home. We must be 100 per cent. If we are, then I hope we can get the three points.
‘We’ve had must-win games recently. Hopefully that helps us going in to play Slovenia. The last couple of campaigns, we’ve gone into the last game with nothing to play for.
‘Now we are on a run and we just need to keep it going for one more game to reach a play-off.’
Only 8,000 more Scotland fans than were in Estadio Algarve for the win over Gibraltar made it to Hampden back in March for the World Cup qualifier against the Slovenians as confidence in the regime sunk to its lowest level.
They were rewarded with a dramatic late win. Yet some of the 20,435 crowd had trickled out of the national stadium by the time Chris Martin netted the only goal of the game — after booing the striker on to the pitch. A warm-up comeback draw against Canada, watched by 9,158 at Easter Road, had hardly advertised that Scotland were ready to raise a stirring recovering in Group F.
‘If you look back a year to after our home game with Lithuania (a 1-1 draw), everyone thought that was the campaign over,’ added Robertson. ‘The next couple of home games, few showed up and that’s not like us.
‘But now the fans have come back and that’s credit to all the boys because we’ve been doing it on the pitch. This is maybe a position that people never thought we’d be in.
‘We’ve never doubted ourselves, though, and now we’re going into the last game looking for something. As a nation, we go there believing we can make the play-offs. Hopefully, it’s joy at the end of the day.
‘The good thing about our country is whether it’s 5,000 or 25,000, you know it’s diehard fans who will support us right to the end.
‘The fans who showed up for the Slovenia home game were different class. The England match at Hampden will stay with us for a long time and the atmosphere was amazing when we beat Slovakia.
‘The way they reacted at 90 minutes was brilliant. They helped us get over the finishing line.
‘I don’t think Slovenia being out will make a difference. They are at home finishing a campaign. It’s similar to us in Gibraltar. We could have chucked it and not put in a good performance. But we knew our fans were demanding of us and Slovenia will be no different.’
On a evening for a national hero to emerge, Scotland are not short on unlikely ones.
Ikechi Anya and Martin teamed up on Thursday night to put behind them a club start to the season that screamed ‘Scotland hero in waiting’ to Strachan and Strachan alone.
A winger Anya with a total of 19 minutes in the English Championship this term and a striker Martin without a club goal in 20 games for Fulham and Derby since March 4.
‘I’ve played against Chrissy in the Championship and I know him well,’ said Robertson. ‘He’s a terrific scorer. I rate him highly. Maybe he is one that players appreciate more.
‘I think all the players know what he gives us when coming on. He has played a massive part for us in the campaign and I don’t think the fans can moan about him.’
This is maybe a position that people never thought we’d be in but we kept believing
IN THE PINK: Robertson won this tussle with Slovakian defender Peter Pekarik