Football: Scots to test Elliott injury

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The Independent Online
EVEN AFTER a weekend in which the most energetic squad activity was kicking their heels following the postponement of Bosnia's visit, Scotland's preparations for tomorrow's European Championship Group Nine summit meeting with the Czech Republic in Glasgow have been undermined by an injury scare.

Matt Elliott, the London-born Leicester defender who was in line to replace long-term casualty Colin Hendry at Celtic Park, reported a back strain which Craig Brown described as a "major worry". The Scotland manager added: "Matt will have to prove himself 100 per cent fit for me to pick him. I couldn't consider letting him start otherwise."

Another of the Anglo-Scots, the Celtic goalkeeper Jonathan Gould, has been given compassionate leave from their coastal headquarters at Troon after complications with his wife's pregnancy. Gould was expected to understudy Neil Sullivan, but Brown will have to re-examine his options unless he returns today.

While Brown is aware of Scotland's reputation for having some players with more call-offs than caps, he views it as a British rather than a Scottish problem. Reflecting on his trip to Teplice on Saturday to watch the Czechs' 2-0 defeat of Lithuania, he claimed he could have named their starting XI before he arrived, as well as those of most teams involved in Championship qualifiers that day.

"I might have struggled to predict the British sides, though," said Brown. "The way we play our football in the English and Scottish Premiership is very physical, and fiercely competitive compared with the more technical game in somewhere like France. Those countries don't have players missing constantly the way we do. The only Czech who has been out lately is Pavel Nedved, and he played against Lithuania."

Reports that Kevin Keegan had used a Scottish sports psychologist, Watt Nicol, to put England's players in the right frame of mind ahead of their win over Poland were received with indifference bordering on scepticism in the Scotland camp. Nicol, the self-styled "guru of personal reinvention", comes from Brown's adopted county, Ayrshire, but there will be no call for him to do his patriotic duty.

Although his predecessor, Andy Roxburgh, used a psychologist called Jack Black, Brown is of the opinion that it is the manager's job to provide motivation for those players who need it. Some already work with psychologists at their clubs and he was concerned that they might be confused by being exposed to different methods.

But the bottom line, he argued, was that international players must already possess a certain amount of will power to achieve and sustain such status. "I think England would have won 3-1 anyway because of their own qualities, those of their manager and the nature of the opposition," Brown said.

Against the Czechs, who boast a 100 per cent record in the group, Brown's singular talent for reinventing Scotland's line-up in the face of adversity looks likely to be tested to the full.

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