Whether he’s selected or rested for tonight’s qualifier against Group D minnows Gibraltar, Marc Wilson’s thoughts will turn to Tbilisi before kick-off in Faro.
The Stoke City defender has first-hand experience of the difficulties extracting a result against Georgia in their own back yard and believes the potential exists for Scotland to stumble and alter the complexion of the group in Ireland’s favour.
Though Martin O’Neill’s side trail the Tartan Army by just two points, the buffer is effectively three due to Scotland edging he head-to-back battle courtesy of victory in Glasgow.
“Georgia won’t be an easy game for Scotland and could pull off a shock result,” suggests the 28-year-old, part of the Ireland side 12 months ago which only secured a late 2-1 victory.
“Tbilisi not an easy place to go. Depending on the night, how hostile the place is and in terms of what team Scotland put out, it could be difficult..
“Georgia have got nothing to lose at this stage. And they’ve got a few decent little players in the team. Hopefully for us, they produce a shock but we’ve got to look after ourselves first.
“Scotland’s game will be over before we start. No matter what the result, we’ll need six points from our next two games and obviously then we have to get results against Germany or Poland.”
Part of O’Neill’s decision to omit Wilson from tonight’s line-up, should he do so, is due to the centre-back’s lack of game-time. He’s only featured in a League Cup game and as a sub last week against West Brom at the weekend since damaging his ankle ligaments during a pre-season game at Wrexham.
Given the faith in the partnership of Wilson and John O’Shea at centre-back, O’Neill will likely reunite the duo for Monday’s tougher challenge against Georgia if Aston Villa’s ever-present this season, Ciaran Clark, gets the nod.
He said: “I feel comfortable playing alongside John. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s someone I enjoy playing alongside. I prefer to play centre-half but I’ll do a job for the team anywhere if I have to.
“I was a stupid injury to get. I went up for a header and came down on the side of my ankle. That’s as much that was in it, just bad luck.
“It’s one of the most important times of the year to get a good pre-season behind you and kick on from there but unfortunately this year I haven’t been able to do it. I’m still playing catch-up.
“I think I’m fully fit yeah but obviously you’ve got to respect the manager’s decision at the end of the day. He’s the one who picks the team and I’m happy to be part of the squad.
“Our objective from day one is to qualify, if the manager decides to pick someone else, I’ll wish them all the best.”
Initially, O’Neill expressed concern about Wilson’s tendency to advance from defence in possession, fearful any glitch could provoke a counterattack.
Mark Hughes at Stoke, however, has encouraged the Antrim man to express himself and O’Neill seems to have warmed to the idea over his 20 months at the helm.
He said: “Different clubs are run different ways by different managers. At Stoke, it’s completely different to the previous manager Tony Pulis. When you come here to play for Ireland, it’s different again.
“No disrespect to Tony Pulis, but it’s common knowledge he likes to play a more direct style than Mark Hughes.
“It got a lot of great results for the club. I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about him, he brought me to the club, he gave me a lot of game time. I’ve a lot of respect for him.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved