Gordon Strachan: I’m only interested in winning

Few faces do instant scorn as well as Gordon Strachan’s so there were some with bated breath at the Aviva Stadium last night when the Scotland manager was asked if his side was in Dublin with the aim of playing for a draw.

Gordon Strachan: I’m only interested in winning

Cue dramatic pause.

Who knew what was to follow? This, after all, is a man who once offered the word “velocity” by way of reply when asked for a quick word by a journalist before walking away, but he stuck around this time and it made for an engaging and thoughtful 10 or so minutes.

“I can’t remember ever any manager telling me that ‘this is the way you play for a draw’,” he offered. “I don’t think I have tried it myself. I try to win the game and see what happens after that. Will a point be enough? You never know what the points total will be.” Strachan’s bon mots were a godsend after the earlier five minutes with Scott Brown that felt like as many hours, though the diminutive manager who has led Scotland from purgatory to the brink of the promised land is far too wily an operator to leave himself a hostage to fortune with the media.

So, suggestions that today’s game was somehow ‘The Big One’ in a group that will span 10 games and 13 months, and which will still have four rounds to go after the action this weekend, were dismissed, though in a manner more interesting than the usual verbal stonewalling.

“You never know what the points total you have to achieve will be. It is because of the performances of the two squads over the last six months or year or whatever that we have an occasion tomorrow. That’s what we’ve got. We had an occasion at Celtic Park that everyone enjoyed.

“We enjoyed that a bit more because we were the fortunate ones to have won. If I get that again, then we will be happy with that. The outcome is determined by the players and hopefully it will be by a piece of magic, like the last time, and not a mistake.

“So, because of the hard work done we have an occasion. I don’t know where the big game is. There are big games at the end of the campaign, but even if you look back now, it is obvious that Georgia (at Ibrox last October) was a big game for us, getting the full points there, in my opinion.”

Strachan also extended his sympathies to Robbie Keane and his family after the recent tragedy that befell the Irish striker’s cousins and, while Brown believes Aiden McGeady will turn out to be fit and well, his manager played down the significance of any one player to the fixture.

“They have got lots of good players. They have got a squad of good players. If you look at the squad, a lot of them are Premier League players and top, top Premier League players, so they are not short of players, that is for sure. They can lose two or three players and still put in a performance.

“So, I don’t think any one player on either side will really affect the outcome of the game. The two squads have good players, but they achieved what they have done by teamwork. We do not have a Gareth Bale or a Ronaldo on either side. We do not have a Messi.” What Scotland do have is an overdue feelgood factor engendered under Strachan who was compared to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week and all but offered a job for life in his current role by the Scottish Football Association’s top bod Stewart Regan.

Also in their favour is the two-point lead they claim on their hosts and the return to action of Charlie Mulgrew after over five months of injury. The expectation is that the Celtic player will partner Norwich City’s Russell Martin in the centre of the defence this evening.

Mulgrew lined up alongside Brown as a holding midfielder when the pair dominated the Irish midfield at Celtic Park last November, but it seems as if West Brom’s James Morrisson will partner Brown in that berth in a familiar 4-2-3-1 formation on this occasion.

Cardiff City’s David Marshall is expected to hold off the challenge of Celtic’s Craig Gordon between the sticks and the only other major question seems to be whether Hull City’s Andrew Robertson or Norwich’s Stephen Whittaker is preferred at left-back.

Strachan knows the answers to those questions. His players, like the rest of us, will find out today.

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