Scotland 1 - 1 Macedonia: Scots stutter to draw
FOR the second time in four days, jeers greeted the final whistle at Hampden last night as Craig Levein’s already unstable relationship with the Tartan Army deteriorated drastically in tandem with his prospects of leading his country to the 2014 World Cup finals.
Scorers: Scotland - Miller (43); Macedonia - Noveski (11)
In a qualifying group widely predicted to be cut-throat, Scotland cannot hope to prosper when they are as blunt-edged as they have been under Levein in a dispiriting and quite possibly ruinous false start to the campaign.
This was another deeply flawed performance from Levein’s team, almost as lacking in penetration as in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Serbia. Kenny Miler’s 17th international goal earned another point for Scotland, but the four dropped at home already looks like the kind of damage which is irreparable.
Macedonia, who took the lead through a Niko Noveski goal which looked suspiciously offside, were thoroughly deserving of their share of the spoils. Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor earned the man of the match award, an indication of how close the visitors came to taking all three points. As it is, Scotland’s situation is grim enough ahead of next month’s away double-header against Wales and Belgium.
The last thing the increasingly embattled Levein needed was to be on the wrong end of the decision which went Macedonia’s way as they claimed the early goal which set Scotland’s task against an even bleaker backdrop.
Russian linesman Anton Averyanov’s failure to spot that scorer Noveski was offside when he received the ball from Ivan Trichovski was difficult to credit, given that the official appeared to be perfectly in line with play. But the Scottish defence could not be completely excluded from culpability for the startling setback.
The ball was shuttled quickly from Muhamed Demiri to Trichovski on the corner of the penalty area, the latter’s final pass finding Noveski some half a yard in advance of the Scottish defence to beat Allan McGregor with a close-range shot.
While Macedonia were fortunate the goal was allowed to stand, they could not be said to be undeserving of the lead they held until just before the interval. Guided by the intelligent promptings and technical excellence of their captain and talisman Goran Pandev, the visitors were far more fluent, imaginative and menacing than their hosts for much of the opening period.
When Pandev carved his way through the home defence to set up another opening for Ibraimi, his shot flying narrowly wide, it was the prompt for the first concerted signs of dissent from the Tartan Army.
As jeers rang around Hampden, with catcalls directed at Levein, there could be no doubt the manager and his team had strayed into dangerous territory.
The mood could easily have darkened further in the 25th minute, McGregor fortunate that the referee this time did not see the Scotland goalkeeper’s foolish and needless kick at Mirko Ivanovski as he raced off his line to claim the ball ahead of the Macedonia striker, whose penalty claims went unheeded.
Playing with verve and growing confidence, Madedonia were anything but content to sit on their lead and only a fine save by McGregor prevented Ibraimi making it 2-0 on the half hour mark when he fastened on to another terrific pass from Pandev.
Scotland were in desperate need of something to both alter the momentum of the match and regain the faith of the home fans. Mercifully for Levein, his team gradually forced their way on to the front foot as half-time approached.
Maloney, the source of much of their best work, whipped over a corner from the left which Andy Webster rose to head just wide, then the little Wigan midfielder stung the palms of Macedonia goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov with a well struck free-kick from 22 yards.
Macedonia, forced into a change when the injured Trichkovski was replaced by Ferhan Hasani, were rattled out of their earlier rhythm and Scotland’s efforts were rewarded with the 43rd-minute equaliser.
It was by far their best move of the half, started by the previously ineffective and out of touch James Morrison. The West Bromwich Albion midfielder slid a clever reverse pass into the path of Jamie Mackie who had outwitted Macedonian efforts to play him offside. Mackie rolled a pass across the face of the six yard box for Miller to beat Bogatinov with a simple left-foot finish. But Scotland were unable to carry that momentum into the start of the second half. Although Paul Dixon got forward to test Bogatinov with a long-range effort which the goalkeeper dealt with smartly, it was Macedonia who again began to produce the more inventive and composed football. Their ball retention was markedly superior to the Scots and it was not long before the home support were once more venting their frustration towards Levein. With renewed ambition, and a clear sense that this was a match they were well capable of winning, Macedonia were once more committing players into the attacking third of the pitch. An adventurous run from full-back Daniel Georgievski seriously stretched the home defence, the danger only averted by Christophe Berra’s lunging last-gasp challenge. From the subsequent corner kick, there was another almighty scare for Scotland when McGregor’s punched clearance fell to Hasani who struck a post with a rasping 20-yard shot.
Levein’s response was to send on Charlie Adam for Miller, a decision met with howls of derision from among the Tartan Army ranks. Chants of ‘We want a striker’ filled the chilly night air, supplemented by calls for the introduction of Jordan Rhodes. That request was acceded to in the 66th minute, the £8 million Blackburn Rovers front man coming on for Morrison and joining Mackie in a two-pronged strike force. Rhodes almost made an instant impact, showing an innate poacher’s instinct to escape his marker and head an Adam cross narrowly wide.
Macedonia were anything but finished as an attacking force, however, and McGregor came to Scotland’s rescue again in the 72nd minute when he made an excellent save to deny Ivanovski from close range.
Scotland (4-1-4-1): McGregor, Hutton, Berra, Webster, Dixon; Caldwell; Mackie (Naismith 77), Morrison (Rhodes 66), Maloney, Forrest; Miller (Adam 58). Subs not used: Marshall, Hanley, Snodgrass, Cowie, Dorrans, McCormack, Samson, Foster, Phillips.
Macedonia (4-4-1-1): Bogatinov, Gerogievski, Noveski, Shikov, Popov; Ibraimi (Tasevski 89), Gligorov (Shumulikoski 70), Demiri, Trichkovski (Hasani 37); Pandev; Ivanovski. Subs not used: Pachovski, Naumovski, Mojsov, Grncharov, Ristiko, Lazevski, Gjorgiev.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
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