COME ON SCOTLAND!
Enjoy the top team with the biggest news, views and interviews before World Cup showdown in Slovenia
Gordon Strachan will warn Leigh Griffiths not to over-celebrate if he scores against Slovenia tonight – even if he believes he has just clinched a World Cup play-off spot.
After a fraught night of qualifying action elsewhere, Scotland go into their Group F clash at Ljubljana’s Stozice Stadium, knowing victory would be enough to take them through.
And with the prospect of two more huge games to come, the manager is cautious of seeing his players rule themselves out through suspension.
James McArthur, Charlie Mulgrew, James Morrison, Barry Bannan and Grant Hanley are all also one yellow card away from missing our next World Cup qualifier.
But it is the Celtic striker – with his history of getting booked for wild goal celebrations – who is causing the national manager most concern.
“That is something I’ll have a conversation with Leigh about – I will need to have a word,” said Strachan.
“His performances of late have been terrific. I just thought he was magnificent for us in the win against Slovakia the other night.
“His part in the goal was unbelievable. We had talked to them about pushing themselves that little bit more than you think you can.
“Then you see the way he stretched to get to the ball just to toe poke it through to Ikechi Anya. That toe poke won us the game.
“That’s the difference at this level. People talk about systems and tactics but when it came down to it, what won us that game?
“Leigh Griffiths turning, stretching even though he might get hurt and toe-poking it. That’s what made the difference. “So we need him free to play.” Not that the Scotland manager is taking victory for granted. Quite the reverse, in fact.
He is warning supporters to brace themselves for another long and nervous evening, much like the Slovakia win last Thursday night.
“It’ll be another one of those, I think,” he said.
“But listen we would take this – to win your last game to get a place in the play-offs.
“I think we all agreed at the start of the group that, with what England have got, second place would be a smashing achievement.
“And the wins we have accomplished with late goals proves we have the character and the fitness level to see these nights out. “The fans know we have that in our locker. “People talk about mental strength, but I could put 11 press guys out there and I’d know they’d try as hard as you could to get a victory for Scotland.
“But you couldn’t do it because you are not fit enough. You’d give it your best but you’d be knackered after 20 minutes.
“So you have to have the physical strength to keep the mental strength going.”
The Scotland boss is confident his own nerves will be able to handle the occasion.
“When the game starts, the best place to be is on the park, and the second best place to be is where I’m standing,” he said.
“I might not be out there, but I can tell the boys: ‘I’m here with you’. I can feel a part of it when you are there with the bodies round about you.
“The biggest problem I had the other night was when I went chasing after the ball and as I was running to it I thought, ‘I’m going to fall on my a*** here!’. I could see it appearing on YouTube!”
As the country’s last line of a defence that has kept three clean sheets in their last three games, Craig Gordon is hoping he doesn’t suffer that fate in a figurative sense.
“Getting to a major Finals is the one thing in my career I still want to achieve,” he said.
“So let’s hope we can take this opportunity and go out there and play like it is everybody’s last chance.
“We have not been to a final since 1998 and we’ve had a couple of small opportunities since then to make it happen.
“Italy at home 10 years ago and the Czech Republic at home (Euro 2012 qualifiers) was also a big moment in that campaign.
“There have been moments when things have gone against us, but we are in a good run of form at the moment.
“We hope we can carry that into the last game. Let’s go and do it.”
Or in the case of the defence, stop the opposition from doing it.
He is confident of that, not least because of the form of the emerging partnership in the centre between Charlie Mulgrew and Christophe Berra.
“They’ve been good,” he said. “They are both quite dominant in the air and they work well as a partnership.
“Charlie is good on the ball, it gives us a bit of a balance. Christophe very rarely loses anything in the air at both ends of the park. He gives us a goal threat as well as we’ve seen recently.
“And, crucially, they can defend. They put their bodies in there and put their heads in where it hurts and that’s a big plus when we are on the back foot.”
Like his manager, though, Gordon advises caution in assuming Slovenia, who themselves still have a tiny mathematical chance to qualify, are there to be beaten.
“We don’t know if we could have picked a much more difficult one away from home.
“They are very good at home and don’t concede many. It is still a big challenge but we are coming into it in the best way possible, on the back of five games undefeated.”
Scotland keeper Craig Gordon