TIME SCOTS WERE PIC­TURE PER­FECT

Gi­bral­tar snap­shot with sup­port­ers left Robert­son amazed — now he wants proper fan­fare in Slove­nia

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE - By Fraser Mackie

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

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