CHARLIE Mulgrew insists Scotland always believed that they could recover from a slow start to their World Cup qualifying campaign as they head in to their final two games with their fate still in their own hands.

Rovers skipper Mulgrew is expected to start for Scotland this evening as they host Slovakia at Hampden Park, knowing a win would see them leapfrog their opponents who are currently second in Group F.

A win for group leaders England over third-placed Slovenia, who Gordon Strachan’s men meet in their final game on Sunday, would see the Scots move in to second, still keeping alive their hopes of reaching the play-offs.

The eight runners-up with the best records from the nine groups will make it in to the play-offs, with two legged games then taking place to decide the final four spots in next summer's finals in Russia.

But after a poor start, in which Scotland picked up just one point from their opening three games, Mulgrew is happy they still have something to play for going in the last two rounds of qualifying.

“To have it in our own hands at this stage, we couldn’t really ask for any more,” Mulgrew told

“We always kept believing within the group that we could put ourselves in this position. But it obviously wasn’t looking great for us at one stage.”

Scotland have taken 10 points from an available 12 in 2017. That would have been a perfect record were it not for a late Harry Kane equaliser in the 2-2 draw at Hampden Park in June.

And Mulgrew, who is expected to start for a fifth game in a row for his country, says a real team effort has been behind the turnaround in fortunes.

He added: “It’s not just saying it – defending really is a team effort.

“Look at the way we pressed Lithuania away, for example. That meant there was so much less for the guys at the back to do.

“The same goes for attacking. We can’t just leave that to the players ahead of us. When defenders have the ball, we’ve got to be thinking about how best to use it and getting the team moving forward.

“The manager is big on us being brave on the ball and that means not just booting it into Row Z as soon as you’re under a bit of pressure.”

Mulgrew’s ability to play out from the back has been a key part of a Scotland defence which features four left-footed players.

The 31-year-old plays as the left sided central defender, with Kieran Tierney (Celtic), Christophe Berra (Hearts) and Andrew Robertson (Liverpool) alongside him.

“I’ve been lucky there; it’s the boys playing right-back and right-centre-half who deserve most of the credit,” Mulgrew said.

“It is definitely unusual and I don’t think I’ve ever played in a defence full of lefties before. But if it was all right-footed players no-one would bat an eyelid. And you can see from the results that it’s certainly not a problem.

“The way the game has developed, playing football from the back is a big part of things and I feel confident doing that.

“It’s a part of the game that I enjoy. You still have managers who’ll want you just to win headers, clear the ball and kick folk, but more and more are seeing how important it is to keep possession and get the ball to the better players’ feet.”

Rovers will be hoping that Mulgrew will return to Brockhall next week fully fit, having missed the first game after the international break last month.

He was forced off with a foot injury in the second half of Scotland's win over Malta on September 4, which kept him out of the Rovers side which won impressively at Rochdale five days later.

However, that is the only league game he has missed so far this season, contributing three goals in his nine League One outings.