En­joy the top team with the big­gest news, views and in­ter­views before World Cup show­down in Slove­nia

The Sunday Post (Dundee) - - Front Page - By Danny Ste­wart

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

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