Optimism over Scotland’s latest campaign evaporated inside ten minutes after Kazakhstan took a shock 2-0 lead in the Astana Arena.
Such was the nature of the defeat – striker Baktiyor Zainutdinov added a third shortly into the second half – that McLeish already faced questions about his future.
The manager has led Scotland to a play-off place thanks to top spot in their Nations League qualifying group but losing to a team ranked 117th in the world saw him asked if the strong reaction from fans to last night’s defeat meant he would consider his position.
“I will just continue to do my job,” he said. “Suffice to say I’m not going to get drawn into that question.”
He sought to clear up what happened following the final whistle when Scott McTominay headed straight down the tunnel rather than head to the area where 600 disillusioned Scots stood following the 4,000-mile trip through six time zones to Astana. Skipper Callum McGregor appeared to row with coach James McFadden after displaying unhappiness with McTominay. McLeish revealed the Manchester United midfielder “had a stomach upset” and was heading straight to the bathroom.
McLeish pointed out there are still nine games to be played and 27 points on offer. Losing the first match certainly counts as a setback but McLeish maintained it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fatal blow to Scotland’s ambitions. He said: “It’s never finished until it’s finished.
“We bounced back from a poor performance in Israel [in the Nations League] and that’s what we must do after this game.
“We have other players to come back, players with more experience who have to come back to the Scotland squad. Obviously we need to have as strong a squad as we can if we’re going to be strong in qualification.”
The team McLeish picked was Scotland’s youngest for a competitive fixture since the 1970s.
“There is a lot of inexperience in the squad,” he said. “We have introduced a few new names in the last year or so and it’s a process where it can take time but I know we don’t have any time. I want to get these lads playing to the level that we demand on the international scene but it’s not easy for players to come from no experience straight into the international team.”
McLeish refused to consider whether the 3-0 reversal was his worst-ever defeat as a manager. Some believe it registers as Scotland’s worst-ever loss. Last year’s 2-0 defeat to Israel, ranked at 94, was the previous lowest point, at least officially in terms of Fifa rankings. Kazakhstan were winless in all ten of their 2018 World Cup qualifiers and only gained a single victory – 1-0 in Latvia – in their qualifying campaign for Euro 2016.
“I don’t really rank defeats,” said McLeish. “I just feel in terms of losing I have to bounce back. I always feel low after a game but as I’ve said I’m pretty good at bouncing back.”
Scotland will aim to do so against San Marino, who, at 211, are the lowest ranked team in world football. McLeish will be desperate that Andy Robertson’s travel plans run smoothly. The Liverpool left-back is due to join up with the squad today in Italy, where Scotland are based prior to Sunday’s night next Group I fixture.