Gordon Strachan turns up the pressure on England in World Cup qualifiers

• Gordon Strachan says England cannot afford to slip up against Slovakia
• Scotland aim to build on win over Lithuania but must be patient against Malta

Disappointment has surrounded Scotland with such regularity that optimism would seem a strange backdrop. Yet the 3-0 win over Lithuania has fuelled a belief Gordon Strachan’s side may make a late charge towards a World Cup play-off berth.

Ticket sales for Monday’s visit of Malta to Hampden Park illustrate that feeling; more than 2,000 were taken up between full-time in Vilnius on Friday and Saturday lunchtime. There remains a glimmer of hope.

Scotland are four points adrift of Slovakia in Group F but the wider picture is suddenly more positive. Slovakia visit Wembley on Monday and Glasgow next month. On the basis Scotland should take care of Malta, tales of yet another failed qualifying campaign may have been premature. Assistance from England would further boost the mood.

“England need to do themselves a favour because if they don’t do well and get beaten, Slovakia go top,” Strachan said. “When you’re England you have no option but to win games. It’s like being Manchester United or Chelsea or Juventus. You’ve got to win games.

“Slovakia have been fantastic and they have some good players but we’re hoping that we’ll be in a position that our good players will be all right against theirs when we get together again.

“England have got to be on their toes because if they lose to Slovakia that’ll put them a point behind and they don’t want to be in that position.”

Scotland’s manager would not have accepted this position before a ball was kicked in the group. “I thought we would have been better than that,” he said. “Our position is far better than we were three games ago. I think we are all feeling a bit better. The players were buoyant after the Malta game but then we let ourselves down in the next couple of games and then we were back at it again. But they never, at any time, lacked belief. If they didn’t have belief they wouldn’t have done what they have done over the last three games.”

The match in Vilnius unquestionably witnessed the finest Scotland performance of Strachan’s reign. A different approach will be required against Malta, whose woeful run has brought seven straight defeats in the group. Their goal difference is minus 19. Scotland won the reverse fixture 5-1.

“People will look at that game and think that we got breaks at the right time,” Strachan said. “We said afterwards that we were lucky to get the breaks and we didn’t disguise that. We didn’t think it was a 5-1 mauling. We just thought it was a good performance, with the breaks at the right time. How hard did England find it to break them down? How hard did other teams find it?

“Getting the first goal against them is the most important thing. Lithuania took nearly 80 minutes to get their first goal and that was from a corner.

“The key for us is patience. If you come along to the game and think it’s going to be shots from everywhere, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not going to be like that. They’ve got so many big people in their team and they’re really disciplined and strong.

“So it’s going to be a night for real patience and if you’re going to get upset and flustered, it’ll play into Malta’s hands.”