Scotland 0-0 Serbia: Goalless draw damages Group A prospects
SCOTLAND are already playing catch-up in their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign after drawing a blank against Serbia in their opening Group A game at Hampden.
Bookings: Snodgrass, Mattija Nastasic, Ninkovic
On A day of familiar and wearying toil, Craig Levein once again failed to make good on his lofty boasts of Scotland’s improvement on his watch. Time and again we have heard the Scotland manager sing about his team from the highest rooftop, acclaiming their virtues and speaking of his confidence going into these World Cup qualifiers. If things have moved forward then only Levein has noticed. Scotland were supposed to set the agenda yesterday, but instead they are playing catch-up once more.
To hear Levein bemoaning his side’s ability to take the chances they created was to summon up the spirit of Steven Fletcher. To hear the manager try to sell a line about Scotland’s prospects not having suffered a blow with these lost points was risible. In his parallel universe, perhaps. In the real world? It’s just a question of how damaging this draw will prove to be, but damaging it most certainly is.
Between vast spells of anodyne football, Scotland did, indeed, create chances. One fell to Kenny Miller and he fluffed it. Another was missed by Steven Naismith. A third fell at the death to James Forrest and it was saved. A problem with putting the ball in the net? Now, let us think. Is there anybody out there who might be able to rectify these goalscoring woes?
Serbia were no great shakes but they were hardly bystanders. Just before the Forrest opportunity, the visitors had one of their own and Scotland had Allan McGregor to thank for pulling off a save that might have made a bad day an utterly abject one. Serbia would have been delighted with a point for they were not in a good place coming here. They had a string of poor results behind them, a manager whose job security was about as solid as a drunken trapeze artist and a starting line-up containing five players aged 21 or under. And now they have an away point from one of their closest rivals to boot. Levein has taken to wearing a pair of spectacles with darkened glass, through which he is somehow seeing all sorts of light. Fair enough, what else is he to do but talk up his team. All managers do it whether they believe it or not. You sense that Levein genuinely buys into the notion of Scotland as an emerging force but we are all left mystified as to what he sees that the rest of us cannot.
The first period at Hampden was clunky. Scotland lacked energy and accuracy, got little or nothing from one of their most attacking weapons, Naismith, and had another of their creative players, James Morrison, on the periphery of an ordinary football match between two ordinary football sides.
The elan of Levein’s imagination was not transferred to the pitch in a half that meandered along, interrupted only occasionally by something worth noting. There was the seventh-minute free-kick from Aleksandar Kolarov, goal-bound until McGregor dived low to his right and tipped it away. There was a succession of Scottish corners and a succession of poor Scottish deliveries into the box.
There was, at last, a chance for the Scots – and a very good chance it was, begun when Charlie Adam took a quick free-kick to Robert Snodgrass up the right-hand side. Snodgrass cut into the Serbian penalty area, went by Srdjan Mijailovic and unloaded a shot on goal, a shot that glanced off the chest of the visiting goalkeeper, Vladimir Stojkovic, before fizzing wide of his post. Inches away from a breakthrough, then. And yet miles away from the kind of performance that would have sated Hampden.
Too often in the first half, Scotland were passive, standing off the Serbs and allowing them to dictate the tempo, not pressurising the visitors in possession, not taking the game by the scruff of the neck and making things happen. It was flat, oh so flat. You waited for it to get better and, sure enough, it did. After a fashion.
In the opening minutes of the new half Scotland created a few opportunities, the frustration coming in the fact that Miller was on them when they came. Miller is such a trier, such an honest character, but he’s also a player performing poorly in a poor team in a poor league in Vancouver. He looked like what he is, an ageing striker with the predatory instincts of a new-born kitten.
Just before the hour-mark and just after, Miller was a central character in this match. Two chances came his way. One he could do little more with, Stojkovic charging out to block his shot, but the second was a different story. When Morrison dinked a ball into the Serbian box there was only one player there to meet it – and it was Miller. The Serbian defence had been caught out. Their big and bruising centre-halves were missing. Miller was the man. Or could have been the man. There was something terribly hapless about his attempt to meet Morrison’s punt, a desperate leap to reach it and a total failure to get anything on it. The ball went past him and the chance was gone. And in that moment the mood inside Hampden began to turn.
How many souls inside the stadium spared a thought for Steven Fletcher at that point? And if not Fletcher then Jordan Rhodes. We waited for him. Waited and waited. He came on with 11 minutes left to go and with rancour and discontent audible everywhere.
It was when Kolarov thundered a shot narrowly wide of McGregor’s right-hand post that the cries for Rhodes began in earnest. That was in the 62nd minute. Suddenly the appalling vista of no points instead of a modest one became a fear that haunted the home support – and it would haunt them again before the ordeal was over. So much of what happened here was haunting, in fact. You only had to look at Naismith’s face when he squandered a fine opportunity to know about the angst of the day. Sixty six minutes on the clock and Gary Caldwell put the Everton player through on goal, one-on-one with Stojkovic. Was this the moment Scotland made their statement? No. Naismith lifted his shot wide. A calamitous miss.
Levein started to make changes then. Forrest was brought on belatedly, soon followed by Rhodes and Jamie Mackie but the torture carried on.
Serbia could have won it in the 90th minute when Zoran Tosic put Dusan Tadic clean through, only for McGregor to save his country with a fine parry. For Scotland, one more opening and one more piece of misery as Forrest’s shot was beaten away by Stojkovic.
Time ticked on and the boos came. Short and sharp, but heartfelt. More of the same.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Dixon, Berra, Caldwell, Webster, Adam, Morrison (Mackie - 81), Miller (Rhodes - 81), Snodgrass (Forrest - 69), Naismith. Subs: Gilks, Marshall, G Hanley, Foster, Maloney, Forrest, Cowie, Dorrans, M Phillips, Rhodes, Mackie, McCormack
Serbia: Stojkovic, Bisevacm Mattija Nastasic, Ivanovic, Kolarov, Tosic, Mijailovic (Fejsa - 45), Ignjovski, Ninkovic, Djuricic (Lekic - 83), Lazovic (Tadic - 58). Subs: Kahriman, Brkic, Lukovic, Tomovic, Maksimovic, Subotic, Petrovic, Tadic, Matic, Fejsa, Lekic, Markovic
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
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