Friday, October 12, 2012

Wales v Scotland: On a mission

Rarely in his footballing life would Craig Levein have persuaded PG Wodehouse that he was wrong about Scotsmen and rays of sunshine.

There's nothing wrong with that.

A thrawn prickliness might even be a good thing in a job where expectation so often finds an enemy in reality.

Yet what might have been a positive has grown into more and more of an encumbrance the longer Levein has been the manager of Scotland.

He seems to have retreated into himself. And, given how uncomfortable he looks most of the time, found little solace in that solitude.

It might be that he cuts a very different figure when he's alone with his squad.

But in public he too often looks distrusting, suspicious or, more worryingly, lost.

International managers can take time to grow into the job. A period of adjustment is often required.

Yet Levein spends too much time looking almost diminished by the job, clinging ever more grimly to the concept of progress as qualifying results point to nothing of the kind.

Like many managers who find themselves fighting for their jobs he's also developed a reverse Midas touch.

There will be no rapprochement with Steven Fletcher? And so Fletcher will start the season on fire.

Jordan Rhodes isn't quite ready for international football? No sooner said than Rhodes will bag a couple of goals.

There are eight or nine players ahead of Kris Commons? Time for Commons to become a stand-out performer for Celtic.

It makes the manager look like the sort of chap you wouldn't stand next to in a casino.

And it makes the volte-face on Fletcher look like the last throw of the dice, a desperate man chasing his losses.

That might all seem a bit harsh. We're just two games into this qualifying campaign. But Levein has never built the momentum required to have a reservoir of goodwill.

Two opening draws at home might not kill a qualifying campaign or end a manager's career.

They certainly rip away the margin of error though.

Levein wouldn't have to go if Scotland don't beat Wales tonight. But there would be little point in carrying on. Mission impossible would have become mission miraculous. And Scottish football is all out of miracles.

The overwhelming impression taken from the festivals of boredom against Macedonia and Serbia was of a team that didn't quite know how it was supposed to be playing. And probably didn't have the belief to do much anyway.

Levein has to change that against Wales.

The return of Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown should galvanise. Form, if not the manager's conviction, should also guarantee the inclusion of Steven Fletcher from the start.

Not playing Fletcher up front would be to give Wales an unnecessary boost.

And Scotland should avoid doing that. If the beleaguered Craig Levein is currently out beleaguered by anyone it might just be Wales manager Chris Coleman.

Four games, four defeats and an absolute tanking from Serbia last time out.

Levein could just produce a picture of the unsmiling Coleman visage whenever he's asked how bad a start Scotland had.

Which is encouraging. But it makes the prospect of not beating Wales even worse. And Scotland are often at their most masochistic in games that should be won.

Wales are not without threats of their own, the thought of Gareth Bale isolating Alan Hutton is keeping me awake at night, but Coleman seems to have brought only disarray to the job.

"It's not a must win game" repeats Levein - a party line not being toed by every player - but it is. For both teams and probably for both managers.

Can Scotland do it?

Ladbrokes Game On!Yes. They can. Although I've got a horrible feeling this one is far more up for grabs than we'd like it to be.

The odds agree. 13/8 for either team to win, 9/4 the draw.

Gareth Bale, Steve Morison, Steven Fletcher and Kenny Miller all 6/1 as first goalscorer.

Tight.

But let us leave the negativity at door of the manager's press conference.

The power of positive thought tells me that Fletcher will start up front and Shaun Maloney (10/1 first goalscorer) will be there to support him.

Scotland to win and Maloney to score is available at 8/1.

A score prediction?

Scotland to win 2-0 at 11/1.

That's your mission Mr Levein.

I hope you've chosen to accept it.

All odds from Ladbrokes #gameon

Always remembering www.gambleaware.co.uk