Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The pain in Spain

The game in Alicante made for sobering viewing. I think it's time we come up with a new name for whatever it is Spain are playing, it bears little resemblance to the pedestrian game called football that everyone else is labouring with.

Glad to see Scotland stick at it though and hey, we won the last half hour! Yes, dear reader, that was the sound of straws being clutched right there. We've a decent side though, and I do think Craig Levein has us moving in the right direction. But for a contemptible dive and poor refereeing decision at the end of the Czech game we'd be looking forward to the play-offs now. Some decent young players are coming through, and the pace of Mackail-Smith and Goodwillie looked like it could threaten most teams. Shame that Goodwillie started reading his own headlines when he raced through and failed to square it to Mackail-Smith. 3-2 would have made for an interesting last few minutes. But hopefully he'll learn from the experience and be a bit cooler next time.

Another plus is the emergence of Bannan. He looks like just the kind of player we need to unlock opposing defences. The reality of the modern game is that every team is well organised and fit, even the likes of Liechtenstein. It's pretty rare for the minnows to get completely annihilated these days. The difference between the top teams and the also rans are those players that can create goals with a moment of creativity. If we can concentrate on encouraging the development of these type of players then we'll start to move up the rankings and maybe even qualify for a tournament.

All of which leads to the main point of this post. I do hope that the fans and press alike give Craig Levein at least another round of qualifying (or two) to continue to pursue his vision for the development of Scottish football. He's the first national manager I can remember who actually talks sense about the need to change how we coach kids to play in order to become competitive at international level. By definition the fruits of his labours with our youngest players will take several years to pay off. The last thing we need is to give him the chop in favour of someone who only sees the job as a stepping stone to a bigger pay day.

Ok, the tactics away to the Czechs were pretty objectionable (although in fairness they did almost work), but other than that Levein has developed a squad that clearly play with spirit and are trying their hardest. I'd like to see him use the time until the next qualifiers to give Mackail-Smith and Goodwillie more experience and perhaps to make sure that we have a good plan B in place for when his favoured 4-1-4-1 has to be abandoned. The 4-4-2 that we ended with against Spain tonight looked pretty reasonable, or perhaps a 3-5-2 with Hutton and Naismith charging down the flanks.

Finally, we can ill afford to have a player like Steven Fletcher sidelined. It would be great to see him back in the fold. I'm not sure on which side the problem lies, though from the press reports it seems to be on Fletcher's, but enough's enough. Time to bury the hatchet and get him back involved.


wullie said...

Scotland were rank but the Spanish rotters could have given us more of the ball.
I still get nightmares from that Czech game when we played 10 in defence and Craig will have to go for that shameful fiasco.

forfar-loon said...

On the rare occasions we got the ball we played some decent football Wullie. Spain are in a different universe though.

The game away to the Czechs did make me question why we even bothered to play. If you don't try to attack you might as well not turn up in my book. But you can just about see what Levein was trying to do playing for 0-0. We showed way too much respect to a fairly average Czech side though. A big minus against Levein for that, but in light of the progress we're making and his views of what we need to do with youth coaching I'm prepared to forgive if not forget.

If Bannan continues to improve and McFadden comes back something like he used to be, and maybe a few talented youngsters appear, then we might just start to have the guile to threaten the top teams.

I think a bit of continuity is needed. Levein has the team playing pretty close to their potential at the moment. The fact is we don't have many superstars and at least we're reasonably well organised and play with some passion (that Czech game aside). Not sure anyone out there would do much better.

wullie said...

I'm not convinced Forfar. I've been hearing about us 'improving' for 14 years now. Doesn't seem to be working. We struggled against Liechtenstein and Lithuania. Laid down against the Czechs and could have been seriously turned over by the Spanish if they had fancied a few more goals.
We're incompetent in front of goal. Either fluffing the ball, failing to pass or howfing it into row Z.
Our plan of strong defence with a rush up the park in our famous 'counterattack' is a one trick pony. When the Czechs scored during our 10 man defence we found out there was no plan B. Oops.
The main problem seems to be that there's no comeback. Levein can continue 'improving' the team and we'll all 'give him more time' until he is sacked. We should start hiring managers on a 'qualify or sack' policy. That would stop managers living it large on our money while getting us nowhere. Oh but we might not get a manager of good quality ? I'm sorry but we're passed that stage. We want a manager who sees every game as a cup final. Not a chance to try out his tactic of the week. There are managers desperate for a job who would do the job at half the price.
As for some of the 'key' players. Mince with no pride. If Boyd had accepted the offer to return to the team I would never have watched Scotland again. A fat waste of space who should be in the Olympics for diving. I could go on but you get the message. Has beens and never beens.
And why is Peter Houston there ? Dundee United were booed off the park for a dire performance against Motherwell yet Houstie jets off to Alicante. That will have to stop. Utd deserve help to get them out of their quagmire. Not a part time manager.
Rant ends :)

forfar-loon said...

I agree with you up to a point Wullie. As I see it the big problem is what you identify, namely the lack of composure in the final 3rd. Our guys seem to panic when a cool head is what's needed for that killer pass or clinical finish. If we could get a decent playmaker and finisher then we'd be ok. We wouldn't be up there with Spain, not by a long way, but we'd be ok and on the verge of qualifying. The midfield and defence are alright (although they could retain possession a lot better) and probably on a par with most other countries that made the play-offs.

I really hope Charlie Adam continues to improve. He's not the paciest, but he does have a great range of passing and decent vision. If we got one or two others like him and that ever-elusive goal poacher then we'll be pretty competitive with most sides. The sad fact is that Adam had to leave Scotland to progress. How can a guy talented enough to light up the EPL be surplus to requirements at Rangers? I think in our domestic game there's something about not encouraging the creative players who will take a risk or two but who can unlock the tightest defence with a moment of magic. Until that attitude changes (and I think that's what Levein is about) then we'll always have a reasonably competent but pedestrian national team. Lots of effort but a frustrating lack of skill when we get into the opponents' half.

I think it's a bit like the problems with the rugby team. Professionalism came in in the mid 90s and killed us. Every year teams would set new records against us. But we've slowly dragged ourselves up and now have a competent side that is just as big and just as fit as the rest. The big problem that remains is that we don't have a creative player that can break the game open and turn possession and territory into tries.

Regarding the manager (and assistant) I'm just not sure there's anyone out there who would get more out of that group of players. They seem to all be keen to play and to know what's asked of them (even with the infamous 4-6-0 formation) and I wouldn't fault them for effort.

Funnily enough I'd forgotten all about Kris Boyd. Is he still playing? ;o) I hate the kind of player that is too arrogant to accept being on the bench from time to time, and then throws the toys out the pram. But the pragmatist in me thinks the squad would be improved by at least having Steven Fletcher and Boyd available. Might wreck the team spirit mind you.

wullie said...

Boyd is still playing forfar. Down south somewhere I think.
I admire your optimism about Scotland and will probably keep watching out of morbid fascination and masochism.
It doesn't bode well though. Craig was interviewed after the Spain game and said 'the most important thing was that I'm enjoying the job and the players are having fun'.
After getting pumped over and over again. Year after year. What other company would allow this nonsense before punting the manager ? Oops I'm going off on a tangent into the SFA,SPL, Regan etc maze of uselessness....no hope there either lol

Dubbieside said...


While I agree with most of your sentiments, and I also see some light at the end of big Craigs tunnel I think he has to take most of the blame for the Czech draw at Hampden.

He took Bardsley off when he was having his usual competent game and sent on the much less experienced Wilson. Bardsley would never have let himself get into the position where the guy could take the dive. So unless Bardsley was injured, and I have seen nothing to say he was, Craig was at fault.

forfar-loon said...

Wullie, the optimism is all I've got left to cling to! A wee voice keeps whispering to me that one day, when we're playing like Spain and tearing teams apart, all these years of misery and suffering will make our triumph all the sweeter. We might have to wait a wee while for that dream to come true though...!

Dubbieside, that's a fair point, although Wilson didn't do anything wrong beyond being vaguely near an opponent. For me, having also seen Wayne Barnes miss that obvious offside in the last minute vs Argentina, the lesson is simple but difficult to put into practice. Refs will always make mistakes. The difference is that the "lucky" teams that don't suffer from them are 3 goals/tries ahead in the last minute. That outrageous last minute pen becomes a consolation for the opposition instead of 2 dropped points and failing to qualify. So all we need to do is start humping teams instead of squeaking past by a single goal. Easy! I can only remember a Scotland team doing that on one occasion. 3-0 vs Ukraine a few years back. Only time I've not been cacking myself right up to the final whistle!