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Players hail friendly form as Craig Levein stops the Scots' rot

• Victory over Czech Republic boosts Scotland's spirits
• 'The players are happy,' says defender Gary Caldwell

* Andy Hunter
*, Thursday 4 March 2010 23.00 GMT

The first friendly win in 14 years at Hampden Park provided a headline figure for Craig Levein's Scotland debut but the greater cause for hope came from a squad buying into the new manager's mantra from day one.

"Hard to beat" was the pre-match message so evidently drilled into Levein's players against the Czech Republic, and there were no apologies for an end product that at times proved even harder to watch.

"We have all been part of poor results, poor performances, and that gets you down," said the Scotland and Wigan centre-half, Gary Caldwell. "This win gives us confidence and we can look forward to Sweden [a friendly yet to be confirmed] next season. It is a new era and now we have a bit of belief."

As Levein acknowledged following the 1-0 victory, delivered when Scott Brown finished off Scotland's first incisive attack of the night, momentum comes with time and not a single result, however significant. But there was still a notable departure from the errors and misfortunes that undermined George Burley's 20 months in charge and paved the way for the 45-year-old's arrival from Dundee United.

Whereas his predecessor persisted with attempts to introduce a more expansive style regardless of the players at his disposal, Levein made it plain that returning to the basics of resilience, hard graft and unity was the only way forwards for a country that has slalomed down the world rankings in the past two years. He also made the astute move of taking blame for the overly-cautious opening that attracted boos from the Hampden crowd. "I feel I am responsible," admitted Levein. "I spent more time stressing defensive duties and maybe the players felt they didn't have licence to go forward."

Caldwell added: "He has made us hard to beat and the players are happy with that; the success we have had in the past is when we play that way. The first game and first impressions are always important and everyone came here this week wanting to show the manager that we want to play for Scotland. Clean sheets build confidence; if the boys can nick a goal and we are solid, we will win a lot of games.

"We can improve, we know that, we will build on this and get better. First and foremost, we have to be hard to beat. Football is about winning, however you play the game; are judged on winning games and we won. So what we did was right, what the Czech Republic did was wrong. It possibly lays down a marker to them."

It is six months until Scotland launch their European Championship qualifying campaign in Lithuania, in a group that also includes the Czechs, Liechtenstein and Spain. There are no invitations to Mensa for guessing the favourites in that section, but victory over a potential rival for the play-off place increased the worth of Wednesday's friendly.

"We won't fear them in the qualifiers," said Christophe Berra, the Wolves defender. "I don't think they are the team they used to be. They used to be a top team, two or three years ago, but now they are going through a transitional period a bit like ourselves. We have had a terrible record in home friendlies so it was just great to get a victory. The manager said it didn't matter how we got it, we wanted to get the victory and we wanted to get that monkey off our backs."

The only gripe – there is always one – was Berra's annoyance at being omitted from Levein's first selection at the expense of Andy Webster, before replacing the on-loan Dundee United defender for the second half. "I am not going to lie, I was disappointed not to start," he said. "I have been playing in the Premier League all season, holding my own against the best strikers in the world. If I am doing well in the top league against the top teams, I would like to think I have a chance but that is not down to me."

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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