Brown under fire as he readjusts target

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The Independent Online
One of the problems with setting targets, as Craig Brown discovered in the aftermath of Scotland's chastening experience in a bitterly cold Athens on Sunday, is that by failing to achieve them you become one yourself.

At the outset of his first full campaign as manager - Group Eight of the qualifying competition for the European Championship finals - Brown said he expected 10 points by Christmas. Defeat against Greece, albeit by a debatable penalty, leaves them three short. More pertinently, Scotland are already five adrift of the Greeks, and their next game is away to Russia, the sectional favourites.

Under media fire for some of his team selections yesterday, Brown conducted a damage limitation exercise. The standings were"distorted", he argued, by the fact that Greece had opened with three eminently winable fixtures and had yet to meet Russia, who looked portentously strong in last month's 1-1 draw in Glasgow.

"If we'd started with the games Greece had, I'm sure we'd have maximum points," Brown said, going on to revise his aims. "To qualify for England, I feel we'll need 15 points from the last five matches, in which we play San Marino twice, the Faroe Isles away, and Greece and Finland at home, because you can't be too confident about getting much out of Moscow in March.

"But we're far from finished. While it's fair to say we're not sitting comfortably, there's a lot of football to be played before the two qualifiers are decided."

Unlike a club manager, Brown cannot simply throw millions at the transfer market. So the 11 who step out in Russia will not be radically different from the team who succumbed to Efstratios Apostolakis's spot-kick in the Olympic Stadium. "Although circumstances conspired against us on a couple of crucial decisions, one or two didn't play as well as they can," he admitted. "However, our resources mean we can't do much about changing the side. We don't have the Strachans, McLeishes, Millers and Coopers anymore."

This sounded like Andy Roxburgh revisited, a reversion to lowering expectations rather than banging the tartan drum, yet Brown did suggest that in Andy Goram, Scotland have a goalkeeper as good as any in the world.

Goram limped home on crutches and with his right leg in plaster yesterday. His defiance of the clever but profligate Greek forwards was curtailed by a torn calf muscle, and he will not return for Rangers until the new year.

"With him you can feel reasonably confident of going anywhere, even Moscow, and getting a result," Brown added.

The critics would share his optimism if Scotland had one forward of comparable class, let alone a pair. Duncan Ferguson did not quite measure up, betraying a lack of aerial presence for one who stands 6ft 4in and has just cost £4.25m. John McGinlay againlooked what he is, an English First Division battler.

The midfield acquitted itself respectably, but for once the same could not be said of Colin Hendry or Alan McLaren in central defence. With the Greeks also deepening suspicions about Stewart McKimmie's continued viability at right-back, Brown has much tooccupy his mind during Scotland's three-month recess.