SCOTLAND crashed to a deserved defeat in Tbilisi by a Georgian side who were on the wrong end of a thrashing from the Netherlands last week, to put a serious dent in their European Championship qualification hopes.
Scorers: Georgia U21s - Kazaishvili (39), Jigauri (70); Scotland U21s - Macleaod (81)
Referee: S Tsynkevich (Belarus)
Billy Stark’s side should have been full of confidence yesterday after their important win against Slovakia last week in Paisley. The Dutch had won 6-0 at the same venue at the same time and Scotland knew three points would all but knock the former Soviet nation out.
But Scotland simply never turned up, after fading badly following a decent start when Celtic star Dylan McGeough hit the post.
They had Spurs goalkeeper Jordan Archer to thank for making the scoreline respectable when he saved a late Georgian penalty, with the Scots already two goals down.
Rangers midfielder Lewis Macleod could only make the bench because of a back strain and he made an immediate impact as a late sub when he cracked in a brilliant 25-yard volley. But the home side held on and a point for the visitors would have been a grave injustice.
The Scots’ boss admitted the better side won. He said: “We can have no complaints in terms of losing the game. We did get the goal back late on, but it was a sub-par performance by us.
“I felt they were a bit fragile going into the game and I was hoping that we would be able to make them even more fragile by getting in front.
“We had a couple of great chances early on and if we had got ahead, their fragility would have been more evident.
“But when we missed those chances, we gave them encouragement and they grew in confidence. We couldn’t get close enough to them and we gave the ball away too often.
“You move on from game to game. I don’t think losing out here is a shock in any sense. Our under 17s lost to Georgia, our under 19s lost to Georgia, so we knew it would be tough. If we can reverse the result in Paisley next month, then we have nine points from five games and that gives us ample opportunity to try and qualify and I’ve said that to them.
“We had to be a bit critical of them also, though, because we didn’t find the form that we know they are capable of.”
Yet Scotland made an encouraging start in the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium, which will host the European Super Cup in 2015 and they came so close to taking an eight-minute lead when Stevie May burst clear before measuring his cutback to Stuart Armstrong.
Although the Scotland captain’s low shot was well saved by Georgian ’keeper Giorgi Nadiradze, McGeouch followed up with the rebound, only to see his poked stab at the ball rebound off the post.
May came close to adding to his goal last week against Slovakia when he showed quick feet in the box to find space for himself before digging out a chipped shot that was held by Nadiradze. But that was the last we’d see of the young Scots in an attacking sense until very late on.
Midway through the first half, Archer made a fine reaction stop from a close-range effort by Jambul Jigauri, with the home side increasingly dictating play.
Georgia came close to taking the lead when Scotland failed to clear a corner properly and Giorgi Kvilitaia lashed the ball over when he should have scored. A goal was coming from the home side and they grabbed it six minutes from half-time when Valeri Qazaishvili was allowed far too much time and space to drive forward and his low shot from the edge of the area was too good for Archer.
Scotland were getting worse as the game progressed and they could have had no complaints when Georgia deservedly doubled their advantage in the 70th minute. Jambul Jigauri smacked in a 20-yard drive after Kvilitaia was again allowed all the time in the world to tee him up.
Scotland defender Ryan Jack complained to the referee that a tennis ball had been lobbed on to the pitch after the goal, but Stark did not want to make an issue of it after the game and correctly pointed out it hardly affected the goal or the outcome.
Archer saved it from getting even more embarrassing with ten minutes to go when he saved a retaken penalty by Chanturia after Stuart Findlay was harshly adjudged to have handled in the box.
Scotland took heart from that a minute later and sub Macleod cracked in a superb volley from fully 25 yards out to reduce the deficit and make it an unlikely “game on” moment.
Fellow substitute Andrew Robertson forced Nadiradze into a late save and Jordan McGhee headed over, but it was too little, too late for the Scots.
Georgia Under-21s: Nadiradze; Kverkvelia, Ubilava, Kobakhidze, Jigauri, Qaziashvili, Parunashvili, Chanturia (Skhirtladze, 89), Grigalashvili, Kvilitaia (Pantsulaia 80), Papava. Subs not used: Meshveliani, Shulaia, Kakabadze, Chanturishvili, Goginashvilis.
Scotland Under-21s: Archer; Jack, McGhee, Findlay, C Robertson, McGeough (Robertson 72), Armstrong, Fyvie (Macleod 72), Holt (Paterson 61), McGregor, May. Subs not used: Kettings, Kerr, Kennedy, Herron.