Burley's resolve keeps final judgement at bay

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The Independent Football

This will have felt like a small triumph for George Burley, something to clutch on to, to value, however fleetingly. Scotland may not have played with the kind of style that gladdens the heart, but then World Cup qualification is not a moral verdict and he was relying on an older truth here, one that values victory above all else and makes a statement that says something lasting about his refusal to concede.

Beyond the talk of recent weeks, the desperate reaching for expressions of defiance that have so often seemed like the gestures of a tortured soul, all that was left for Burley was to put out a team that was so shaped, so directed, so inclined as to offer an emphatic statement of his worth as a manager. He has long looked like a damned figure, wearied by gathering doubts and insinuations, that only something resounding, a victory and a performance of distinct and uplifting worth, would deliver any kind of sense of redemption.

Instead, this was a victory enabled by earnest conviction, by the more fundamental values of heart and spirit. The deftest touches were the significant ones, Scott Brown's astute header and James McFadden's stirringly adventurous goalscoring burst from the halfway line.

Burley would have been the first to rue the yellow card that keeps the attacker out of the final group game against Holland. "It's a massive blow, in the second half he was unbelievable at times, but we've got to move on," Burley said. "Other players can come in and fill his boots."

Since last month's 4-0 defeat by Norway, Burley has been a man ravaged, by the press, by the supporters and, most darkly of all, by his employers. George Peat, the SFA president, revealed last week that the manager's position will be reviewed after Wednesday's meeting with the Dutch at Hampden, a game Scotland must win to have a chance of earning one of the eight available play-off places. "We've got a belief we can win," Burley said. "Holland are a fantastic team, but we won't be pensive, we'll be nice and positive and look to win."

So much of Burley has been diminished in his months in charge of Scotland that he looked like a man already lost, waiting for cruel judgement to lay its hand on his shoulder.

In taking this job, he sought to reassert the squad's imperatives, changing a team that looked to stifle opponents with a heartfelt industry to one that instead trusted itself with the ball, which attacked with a deeply-held ambition. But too often, Scotland have seemed forlorn, unable to shake off an air of bewilderment. Here, they played with intent and grave determination, but much of what they did was ragged, undermined by an anxious urgency. Burley had to compromise with his line-up, selecting at centre-back Davie Weir, who he had dropped for the Norway game, and Stephen McManus, who had not played a competitive fixture since last May due to a knee injury.

The fight shown by his players, even if the first half ended in a squabble, will at least have heartened the manager. "The players showed the passion that was needed," Burley said. "It's a good feeling."

In the private moments of his early days in the job, when Burley persuaded himself that his Scotland team would play with verve and enlightenment, this kind of victory, wrought out of grim fortitude, would have felt like a betrayal. In truth, though, it was a result that keeps the final judgement at bay, for a few more days at least.

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