Brown shows capability to confound critics

Phil Gordon believes Scots need to capitalise on strong away form
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The Independent Football

Judging by his body language in the Maksimir Stadium on Wednesday night, Craig Brown is not ready to take a back seat yet. Scotland's national coach has been carving out a nice sideline recently with his role as a summariser for BBC Radio 5 Live and Channel 4. Two weeks ago, Brown could hardly stop smiling as he accompanied the presenter James Richardson on a gantry in the OlympicStadium, Rome, to herald the start of the Serie A season.

Judging by his body language in the Maksimir Stadium on Wednesday night, Craig Brown is not ready to take a back seat yet. Scotland's national coach has been carving out a nice sideline recently with his role as a summariser for BBC Radio 5 Live and Channel 4. Two weeks ago, Brown could hardly stop smiling as he accompanied the presenter James Richardson on a gantry in the OlympicStadium, Rome, to herald the start of the Serie A season.

But that laid-back approach disappeared in Zagreb as he discovered that watching from the sidelines can be sheer hell if it involves your own team. Brown's sending off managed to steal the headlines from Scotland's 1-1 draw with Croatia that gives them control of Group Six. Craig Brown and controversy rarely collide. It was like learning that the head prefect had been expelled for smoking dope.

Brown later confessed to being ashamed of being sent to the stand by the French referee Gilles Veissiere, but was perplexed about the reason. "I didn't swear or shout at him," said Brown, "indeed the referee told me to 'shut up' in the first half and his fourth official did the same later on. I felt that was rude." Channel 4 would waste their time doing a fly-on-the-wall documentary on Brown. Unlike Graham Taylor, the only time the Scotland coach uses the f-word is to mention "flat back-four". Yet, his strange irritability in Zagreb hinted at a man who senses others are keen to find an alternative career for him.

Europe's longest-serving manager is battling with a press that has the seven-year itch. Two poor performances, in Lithuania and San Marino, led to knives being sharpened again - despite Scotland having taken six points - as they were a year ago when England came to Hampden in the Euro 2000 play-off and won 2-0.

Had Scotland lost heavily to Croatia - as was feared when they found themselves without six key players - the tabloids would have demanded that Brown quit. Yet, just as a year ago, when Scotland won 1-0 at Wembley, his players confounded the media wisdom and gave a real scare to the team which finished third at the last World Cup. "I think our win against England was our best footballing performance," he said, "but in terms of sheer guts the point taken in Croatia was the best." It extended an unbeaten away run to eight games. Scotland have won in Germany, the Republic of Ireland and England, while drawing in Holland and now Croatia.

Impressive statistics which augment Brown's own personal record. Kevin Gallacher's equaliser ensured that in Brown's 63rd match in charge of Scotland, the defeats column remained unaltered at 13. Scotland have performed so often without their best players, that injury withdrawals rarely make a headline. The absence of six players would have been felt by nations with better resources than Brown. Yet, the adversity gave his team a purpose and no one symbolised that more than Colin Cameron.

The Hearts midfielder has waited patiently for people such as John Collins and Gary McAllister to depart the scene so he can prove himself. He did that against Croatia with a display that eclipsed Robert Prosinecki for influence. The Croatian idol may have struck the post, but Cameron matched him for accuracy in passing as well as tackling like a demon and having the determination to set up Gallacher's goal.

Even then, Cameron did not receive the credit he deserved. The BBC's Alan Hansen and Gerald Sinstadt both referred to him as Allan Johnston. Brown would not have made that mistake on screen, but perhaps giving Cameron the starring role he now deserves will keep Scotland and their coach firmly focused on the World Cup finals instead of the sideshows. "We will have all our injured payers back when we face Belgium next March," said Brown, "but it will be hard to drop anyone after this."

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