Andrew Smith: Away-day troubles still haunting Scotland

One win in ten games for Israel was the statistic alighted upon when considering Scotland's prospects in Haifa last night.
John McGinn is a picture of dejection after Scotland concede the second goal at the Sammy Ofer Stadium. Picture: PAJohn McGinn is a picture of dejection after Scotland concede the second goal at the Sammy Ofer Stadium. Picture: PA
John McGinn is a picture of dejection after Scotland concede the second goal at the Sammy Ofer Stadium. Picture: PA

Instead, it should have been the fact that the Israelis are clinging on to a place in the top 100 within the Fifa rankings, sitting in 94th position, that should have been considered ominous when assessing how the national team might fare on their travels.

For a sorry night that left Alex McLeish’s men with nothing but regret from the encounter in essence followed a wearyingly well-set pattern.

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The Scotland manager had urged his team to demonstrate character in enemy territory to “show we have got a pair”.

Instead they were guilty of a balls-up when given the opportunity to cement their position at the top of their Nations League group.

Merely avoiding defeat was all that was required from his team to ensure Scotland racked up an eight-game competitive unbeaten run for the first time in 29 years.

In that proving utterly beyond them – and they were so comprehensively outplayed this would have been the case even if they hadn’t lost John Souttar to a 61st minute red card – another run was extended, though.

Scotland haven’t defeated a top 100 ranked nation on their own patch for more than five years.

A 2-1 victory over a Macedonia side then 78th in the Fifa pecking order accounted for the sort of outcome away from home that consistently eludes Scotland.

Since that triumph for Gordon Strachan’s team, sealed with goals from Shaun Maloney and Ikechi Anya, only the mighty Gibraltar, Malta and Lithuania have come off second best when hosting Scotland.

Moreover, indeed, Scotland contrived to lose in Georgia in 2015 – a year in which that country’s ranking was way down at 122.

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This 2-1 loss to an Israel side who hadn’t managed to win any of their previous seven encounters at home, and somehow contrived to lose to an Albanian side that Scotland registered a resounding win over in the first round of Nations League matches, laid bare the vulnerabilities that have made watching the national side on their travels in recent times an exercise in masochism.

All the traits that have made Scotland so fragile in unforgiving surrounds were on show.

An inability to play for sustained periods on the front foot, poor decision-making in defensive areas, the squandering of an early lead, what we were treated to in Israel – or forced to endure, rather – was a bonanza of the national team’s shortcomings - as witnessed under a host of managers and a battalion of players.

The Nations League has been presented as the dog’s chance to reach Euro 2020 that Scotland were capable of lapping up.

There is equally the chance of it merely being another competition in which a whimpering national team end up requiring to be put out of their misery.

If anyone requires a reason to be afraid, very afraid, it is offered up by one fact. Next month Scotland will travel to Albania for the third of their four Nations League ties. Albania are currently 57th in the Fifa rankings.