THE valiant Scotland fans helped clear the way for history to be made in Novi Sad tonight.
Scorers: Serbia: Djuricic (59) (65)
Referee: I Vad (Hungary)
Unfortunately, it was history none of them will have wanted to be complicit in as Scotland slipped to a fourth consecutive competitive defeat for the first time in history.
Members of the Tartan Army garnered praise for their efforts in ensuring this Group A qualifier was played, clearing snow from the pitch earlier in the day. Scotland were not able to ensure their efforts had proved worthwhile, and by the end of the match, the home fans were cheering each time a Serbian player touched the ball, in a fresh humiliation for the
It was another long night for Scotland, as Gordon Strachan’s short reign continued in rather undistinguished manner, with a defeat that was as comprehensive as it was disheartening. The reversal leaves Scotland sitting bottom of the qualifying group, and means Strachan and the players will have to stew over this state of affairs until June, when Scotland return to this area of the world to face Croatia.
Striker Filip Duricic was the architect of his side’s victory, scoring twice in a five-minute spell in the second half, after calamitous Scottish defending. It was even more disappointing in view of the fact that resolute Scottish defending had been the only bright aspect of the first-half for Strachan.
The manager had vowed to shake things up again after last week’s defeat to Wales, and made more changes than many anticipated. Six players were brought in following Friday’s dispiriting defeat. Two of these alterations were enforced, but another four were made on the evidence of a disjointed performance last week, in Strachan’s first competitive match in charge. Perhaps the most surprising switch was David Marshall coming in for Allan McGregor, in what was the Cardiff City goalkeeper’s first competitive start for over three years ago. Although he looked assured, it was not a return to savour for the ‘keeper.
George Boyd and Liam Bridcutt earned their first full caps, while Jordan Rhodes made his first competitive start. The manager had explained his wish to see what these players could do in the unwelcoming environment of an away international fixture. If the Karadjordje stadium was inhospitable, however, it was most mostly because of the weather, and the snow-ball-throwing locals inside the ground.
Although some of these home supporters also flew a large skull-and-crossbones flag, and, indeed, had brandished it through the streets as a group walked to the ground before the match, there were enough empty spaces inside the ground to convey the impression that more meaningful matches had been staged in the country. The Serbian team even politely clapped as “Flower of Scotland” was played.
The early arrivals among the Scotland supporters were praised by the Serbia Football Association for their efforts in ensuring the significant amount of snow that had fallen during the night was cleared from the pitch.
It was, of course, the same for both sides, although in blooding two new caps, Scotland looked likely to prove the most vulnerable in the early stages, with Strachan’s hugely experimental line-up requiring time to settle. They were almost undone within the opening minute as Strachan watched his side post another abject start, though Bridcutt intervened with a timely interception in the box after Hanley had mis-placed another header.
As expected, Bridcutt patrolled the area in front of the defence, and he looked eager to display the form that has seen his manager at Brighton, Gus Poyet, claim that he could play for Real Madrid. There was little that was glamorous about the job he was required to do last night, in the middle of a muddy field in Serbia. Meanwhile, Maloney, Boyd and Steven Naismith sought to support Rhodes when Scotland broke up-field with the ball, which wasn’t often.
Instead, Scotland had to rely on the central-defence pairing of Caldwell and Grant Hanley to keep them in the game, with Bridcutt contributing to the rear-guard effort in front of them. One flying block from Bridcutt prevented an almost certain goal from Serbia skipper Branislav Ivanovic, while Hanley was proving a helpful bulwark, as he managed to use his frame to prevent dangerous situations developing at the cost of a goal. One hooked clearance over his shoulder managed to thwart Dusan Basta, who was loitering behind him with intent. He also used his physique well when challenging Dusan Tadic for the ball, leaving the playmaker grounded courtesy of a good old-fashioned bone-shaker.
If there were positives for Strachan to seize on during the interval, they mostly stemmed from the fact that Scotland had avoided going into the dressing room, located in a rather quaint-looking pavilion structure behind at one end of the ground, a goal down, with Marshall’s handling of the ball also impressive. The manager used half-time to make a change to the line-up. Charlie Adam replaced James McArthur and lined-up alongside Bridcutt in the hope of providing further protection for the defence.
It would also have been heartening to think Scotland might make an impression in the opponents’ box, but the second half opened in much the same style as the first, with the visitors on the back-foot.
Scotland were struggling to even catch sight of the other goal, but when a chance finally presented itself, Rhodes proved uncharacteristically wasteful. A mis-kick from Neven Sobotic should have proved costly for Serbia, but the Blackburn striker could only strike the ball weakly at Vladimir Stojkovic. In the end, the miss proved hugely damaging for Scotland. Serbia struck the opening goal from their next attack, on the hour mark.
Serbian midfielder Zoran Tosic took advantage of space on Scotland’s right flank and crossed into the box, where Ljubomir Fejsa’s shot was blocked well by Steven Whittaker. Unfortunately, the Norwich City full back could only then help the ball into the path of Duricic, who slipped the ball past Marshall. Worse was to follow for Scotland just five minutes later, as the game slipped completely beyond them.
Again, it was the result of poor defending from Scotland, with Caldwell’s scuffed clearance putting his side under pressure in the first instance. Hutton’s attempt to deal with the danger was not helpful, and he allowed Tosic to skip away with the ball. His cross was then converted by Duricic, for his second of the night. It might have been a heavier defeat, but Ivanovic’s shot slipped the wrong side of the post in the dying minutes.
Serbia: Stojkovic, Ivanovic, Nastasic, Subotic, Tomovic, Basta, Fejsa (Petrovic 85), Milivojevic, Tosic (Stevanovic 90), Tadic (Djordjevic 68), Djuricic. Subs: Aleksic, Rukavina, Bisevac, Krsticic, Radovanovic, Rajkovic, Djurdjic, Brkic.
Scotland: Marshall, Hutton, Caldwell, Hanley, Whittaker, Boyd, McArthur (Adam 45), Bridcutt, Maloney (Burke 79), Naismith, Rhodes (Miller 80). Subs: McGregor, Dorrans, Webster, Berra, Bannan, Caddis, Gilks.