James Morrison focused on Scotland’s four potential ‘cup finals’

Since he will rack up a decade of loyal international service next year, it is reasonable to suggest James Morrison deserves some success.

Since he will rack up a decade of loyal international service next year, it is reasonable to suggest James Morrison deserves some success.

Yet the midfielder will be thinking of Scott Brown tomorrow night against Slovakia as Scotland set out to complete the first part of a potential four-step mission to reach next summer’s World Cup.

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Brown is of course absent from this and Sunday’s final qualifier against Slovenia due to injury. The first goal of securing a play-off place must be achieved without him.

Morrison knows it is not 
simply a case of “doing it for Broony”. There are too many others, including thousands of weary Tartan Army foot soldiers, who merit the chance to enjoy a major finals. Scotland are striving to reach Russia for everyone who has invested in the increasingly desperate-seeming enterprise over the last two decades.

But Brown has been a member of the Scotland set-up since 2005. He is nearing 60 caps. He returned to international duty earlier in this campaign after reconsidering a decision to retire.

The Celtic skipper wanted one last chance to qualify for a major tournament. It is to his and Gordon Strachan’s immense frustration that he cannot contribute to what are, potentially, two cup finals. But the clash with Slovenia only becomes one if Scotland can claim three points against Slovakia. Brown’s presence on such a high-stakes night would be preferable. But Scotland have to pass this first test without him.

“Broony is a big part, a big character,” said Morrison. “He’s bubbly, he likes to have a laugh. It would be nice to get in that position so when he comes back we’ve still got something to play for.

“We’ve got potentially four massive games. If we do get the two wins your job isn’t done. You have to go and win a play-off.

“There’s no point getting to a play-off and having that nearly situation. We’ve got a job 
in hand and it’ll be fantastic for everyone involved and Scotland.

“A play-off isn’t all right,” he added. “It’s like getting to a semi and not performing and not getting to the final. We’ve got to keep the momentum, that’s the big thing.”

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At least Brown – and clubmate and fellow significant absentee Stuart Armstrong – will likely be back in situ should Scotland reach the play-offs, which are scheduled for the middle of next month. But, in order to give Brown the chance to pull on a Scotland shirt again – there’s a strong possibility he might retire again in the event of failure to qualify – Morrison and his team-mates will need to maintain their winning run for two more games, starting with Slovakia.

Morrison has received intelligence on the opposition from West Bromwich Albion teammate Jake Livermore, who came on as a late substitute for England in their 2-1 win over Slovakia last month.

“Jake just said they are a good team, a good passing team, who have got some good players,” said Morrison. “The two key names that we have seen are [Martin] Skrtel and [Marek] Hamsik. They also have [Vladimir] Weiss, who was at Rangers. They have some good players.

“We will have to get our game plan right and do what we have done at Hampden in our last few games there.”

Scotland must also hope for the opposite to what happened in the last campaign, when a strong start was undone towards the end. This time around Scotland’s World Cup hopes looked to have been sunk after just the third outing – a 3-0 defeat in Slovakia 12 months ago. However, they have stuck to their task and put together a three-match unbeaten run to re-ignite their ambitions.

“Wins breed confidence and performances,” said Morrison. “We’re in a good place. In the last campaign we started well and faded so hopefully it’s reversed.”

Morrison will hope to be given his chance. While much is made of the contribution of Brown over the years, it is pertinent to point out that Morrison, if he plays tomorrow, will win his 46 th cap.

He has been as committed as anyone over the years. He played through the pain barrier to reach half-time when he last started, against England in June, having sustained a knock early on.

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“I didn’t want to come off after two minutes did I?” he smiled. “I might have been branded a bit of a so-and-so. The three points in that game could have been massive. But, having gone 1-0 down, a draw was a good result.”

Morrison has been in and out of the West Bromwich Albion side this season. But as much as he would like Brown to have been fit tomorrow, the Celtic midfielder’s absence, and that of Armstrong, has increased his chances of returning to Strachan’s starting XI after being named as substitute against Lithuania and Malta.

“Obviously [what is happening] at club level sometimes hampers you with the national side,” he said. “You have just got to wait for your chance.”