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Football: Bungling boss Brown is forced to show Leighton the exit door; SANMARINO V SCOTLAN AT STADIO OLIMPICO, TODAY, 6.45.

SCOTLAND boss Craig Brown last night insisted the controversy surrounding Jim Leighton's departure from the camp in Rimini would not disrupt his team's preparations for tonight's clash against San Marino.

What should have been a routine tie against the no-hopers of international football has suddenly turned into a test of character for his Scots side. And though he would never admit it, it has come about directly because of a clear misjudgment on the part of Brown himself.

The decision to ask Leighton to accompany the squad on the trip in the first place seemed surprising at the time, not least because of the alleged bad blood between the former keeper and coach Alan Hodgkinson.

But the fact the invitation also came on the eve of Leighton's autobiography being serialised smacks of sheer bad decision making by the national coach.

Rightly or wrongly, Leighton feels he has been treated badly by Hodgkinson, who he reckons was biased towards Andy Goram when the two were competing for the gloves a few years back.

And the Aberdeen legend's decision to fly out with Scotland must also be questioned given the fact he knew his name would appear alongside damaging comments regarding Brown, Hodgkinson and the SFA this weekend.

But whatever embarrassment the affair has caused, and it is considerable, it must now be forgotten as the Scots look to build on the good work started by Neil McCann's late goal in Latvia last month.

On paper, Scotland should only need to turn up to secure all three points.

After all, their opponents tonight have never experienced victory in 44 attempts, and their best result at this level was a 0-0 draw against Turkey in 1993.

That was the also year they went ahead against England with the fastest goal in international history, David Gualtieri's striker after eight seconds guaranteeing himself a place in football folklore.

With that in mind, Brown should have spent yesterday warning his players not to under-estimate San Marino, and telling the media that his side will give the minnows the respect they deserve.

But as the Scots geared up for the clash yesterday, Brown was instead left picking up the pieces after his misguided move to bring Leighton on board backfired spectacularly.

And the fact Hodgkinson had not been approached by Brown over the appointment of Leighton has only added to the discord, although the Scots boss was at pains to suggest that there was no dispute.

He said: "I spoke to Allan afterwards and he was philosophical about it all. It was a fait accompli, and I was aware there was some discord, but not major discord.

"Jim assured me we wouldn't be embarrassed by his book while we were out here and if I thought he had been misleading me intentionally I'd be annoyed."

"But when I spoke to him last Friday, he gave me an assurance there would be nothing in the serialisation to cause us problems."

Brown went as far to suggest that the two ex-keepers could even have worked together without the dispute getting in the way, although he realised that they were never going to be bosom buddies.

But, after learning that Leighton's book would criticise himself, Hodgkinson and their employers - the SFA, he felt he had no alternative but to withdraw his invitation to the 91-times capped keeper.

And he also revealed that he had sought out Hodgkinson to make sure he accepted that the move to bring Leighton in was also not any sort of attempt to undermine the good work he himself had done within the Scotland camp.

He explained: "They are mature men and they had worked in a professional manner after their discord had started.

"I didn't expect to see them shaking hands, dancing in the streets together or sharing a taxis to go on a night out. I'm not that naive.

"I did speak to Allan, though, and told him there was never any attempt to edge him out by bringing Jim back.

"Allan is the No.1 goalkeeping coach and you always regret any upset so, obviously, this time I regret it.

"I can say this to you also. If I'd said to Jim - I want you to go home - then he'd have gone.Ididn't,Ijust relievedhimof hisduties." Leightonhas,infact,stayed on,andwillattendtoday's gameinaworkingcapacityfor aradiostation. Itremainstobeseenwhether thereallosersherearethe keepersthemselvesNeil Sullivan,JonathanGouldand RobertDouglaswhose preparationsmusthavebeen affectedbythewhole affair. Brown,willobviouslyhope not,andwillbelookingfora convincingdisplay tonight togetpeople'smindsback ontothefootball. Buttheoverridingimpressionhereisthat thiscouldallso easilyhavebeen avoided. Andthefact itwasn't willgive Brown's armyof critics another weapon touse in the future.

SAN MARINO

v SCOTLAND

SCOTLAND (from):

Sullivan, McNamara, Davidson, Handry, Dailly, Weir, Hutchison, McCann, Cameron, Dodds, Gallacher.

KEVIN Gallacher will captain the side to mark his 50th cap.

Odds: To win: San Marino 25-1, Scotland 1-14, Draw 11-2
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Campbell, Iain
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 7, 2000
Words:791
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