SCOTLAND’S dismal World Cup qualifying campaign plumbed new depths last night as a 2-0 defeat to Serbia in Novi Sad saw them complete a sequence of four straight losses in competitive matches for the first time in history.
Gordon Strachan made some bold selections in a much-changed team from last Friday when they lost 2-1 to Wales at Hampden, but after going in goalless at half-time, chaotic defending in the second half gifted the Serbs a deserved victory.
Embarrassingly, the struggling Scots now sit anchored at the foot of Group A without a win from the six qualifying matches they have played so far. The fact that they still have to play joint-leaders Belgium and Croatia (home and away) at Hampden means their are still some tough nights ahead for Strachan as he tries to restore some morsels of pride.
Strachan, who took over from Craig Levein with World Cup qualification realistically out of reach, tried to salvage some positives from the match, which only went ahead after a late pitch inspection and the efforts of the Tartan Army earlier in the day to clear snow from the surface. “It was heavy going. Physically they were stronger than us but they didn’t have bigger hearts than us,” said Strachan. “Some of them are playing with injuries, some are not getting games for their club. We were happy with loads of things but it happens too often than one goal goes in and another follows. We need to learn how to recompose ourselves.”
“We’ll have to rebuild. It’s a hard job. Tonight there are loads of things I think I can work with. In the first 20 minutes their physical strength gave us problems in the middle of the park.”
Liam Bridcutt and George Boyd, making their international debuts, were among six players brought in by Strachan after the disappointing defeat to Wales. David Marshall replaced Allan McGregor in goal, Steven Whittaker made his first start of 2013 at left-back in place of Charlie Mulgrew, while Jordan Rhodes was handed his first competitive start and Steven Naismith was recalled. Chris Burke and Graham Dorrans dropped out along with the suspended Robert Snodgrass and injured Steven Fletcher. Keeper Marshall admitted Scotland had again let down their fans, and promised that the players would attempt to revive the national team’s flagging fortunes.
“It was a disappointing night,” said Marshall. “In the first half hour we did OK. Jordan had a chance just before they scored. We have not won a game in the group. We have disappointed ourselves and let down the fans. We have to work hard to turn it round.”
Striker Naismith agreed: “The dressing room is low. If you look at the team overall it was maybe a bit inexperienced. On the defensive side of things we won’t be happy. The players are playing for their future international careers. ”
In last night’s other Group A matches, Croatia came from 1-0 down to beat wales 2-1, while Belgium beat Macedonia 1-0.