Over the years, football has evolved from 2-3-5, through the W-M formation and ‘wingless wonders’ into the 4-4-2 I know and love, with Christmas Trees, 4-5-1-into-4-3-3, and the current trendy 4-1-4-1 also coming into play. But on Friday I witnessed something I honestly never thought I’d see: 4-6-0.
It made me want to call 9-9-9.
Craig, can you tell me what you’re thinking? I have some questions for you.
1 – Did you think we would beat Spain?
Did you? Really? I have to admit I didn’t. I thought maybe if we put in a solid defensive performance we could nick a draw, and maybe, just maybe, get a jammy against-the-run-of-play goal and do another France.
Your team selection was good, under the circumstances, and they all played well (OK, Whittaker had a ‘mare but everyone has a bad game now and then). Your tactics seemed to be sensible – pack in tight and defend when we don’t have the ball, release the pressure to Miller up front, supported by Naismith and Morrison. Pushing Fletcher further forward was a good move too – I think he had his best game in a while.
So you got the tactics right – well done. But we still lost. Which makes me wonder…
2 – Why didn’t you think we could win in Prague?
Us going to Prague is the equivalent of Dundee United going to Pittodrie – two teams of equivalent scale, each with moments of history. Did you ever leave your strikers in Dundee for the trip up the A90? No, you didn’t.
In Lithuania, I said you had the tactics spot on but were missing that wee bit of luck to convert chances into goals. Lithuania are not a great team, but it’s a tough place to go.
Prague is also a tough place to go, and the Czech Republic are no longer a great team. Yet we set our stall out for – what, exactly? The best you can expect with no strikers is a 0-0 draw. Against Spain? Fine. Against our main rival for second place? They must have walked several inches taller knowing we were so frightened of them that we were afraid to play a striker.
Aside from all of that – even if you don’t think attack is the best form of defence – it is *a* form of defence. Even the worst teams coming to Hampden recognise that. Please, don’t ever do that again.
3 – What have you learned from these two games?
I’m not going to ask if you still think 4-6-0 was the right thing to do – it’s clear you’re sticking to your guns there. And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt – with the information you had at the time, maybe it was the right decision – you’ve studied the Czechs more than me. But I’d love to know if, doing this over again, you’d take the same approach. We showed against Spain we can be dangerous when we have a go – Naisy and Morrison and Miller, full-backs on the overlap too – is that going to change your thinking going forward? “Those who fail to learn from history,” and all that.
4 – Do you really think we will qualify?
Now we have one point from our two key away games, and assuming results go to form in Spain and Liechtenstein, four out of 12. Do you really think that’s good enough? I don’t. What do *you* think is good enough? Your tactics on Friday seemed to suggest you think five would do – a draw in Prague on top of the same in Kaunas, assuming we lose in Spain and win in Liechtenstein. But would five be enough? Losing to Spain was a sensible assumption, if we win our remaining two home games that would have given us 14 points. Maybe you thought that was enough – after all, it took Berti to second place in 2004 qualifying, but that was in a group with Iceland, Lithuania, and the Faroe Islands.
But now, 13 points is our most likely outcome. You know how many teams made the playoffs with 13 points in 2004? One out of 10. And we have no margin for error. If we drop any points at home, we’re toast.
5 – Do you believe Scotland are any good?
Specifically, are we one of the top 16 sides in Europe? I think we could be, but I’m not sure you would agree. I think your ambition is limited, and that inhibits your tactics and our play.
Berti had the opposite problem – his ambition was unrealistic relative to the players he had at the time (he was also a shite manager, but that’s a different argument). Walter Smith had a touch of the Leveins, for sure – I’m thinking of our 2-0 capitulation in Kiev in 2006 when they were there for the taking. In recent years, only McLeish has got the balance about right.
I know we can be a miserable, grumpy bastard of a nation, but we’re also capable of fantastic roars of passion. In Prague, you suffocated us; against Spain, you had us on fire. Forget what your mother told you, Craig – go and play with the matches.
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