Graeme Shinnie admits he let himself down on a chastening night in Kazakhstan after the midfielder was pushed into service at left-back by Scotland manager Alex McLeish.
The Aberdeen player is enjoying a superb season for his club in midfield but circumstances meant he was asked to deputise for Andy Robertson and Kieran Tiernan at left-back.
But his efforts to prove his versatility got off to a bad start when Kazakhstan scored twice in the opening ten minutes, the second goal coming from a pass that was played inside Shinnie. He now fears he has played himself out of the team after his first competitive international start. An ignominious night for every Scot involved, the visitors eventually fell to a 3-0 defeat.
“I am just gutted,” he said. “I didn’t think we were great as a team, but I look at myself more than anything. To get that chance to let the team down was disappointing. I don’t think I played well. It was frustrating on a personal note.”
The player, who started his career at left-back for Inverness Caledonian Thistle, admitted his positional sense might have been suspect as he sought to reacquaint himself with the role. He has only played there briefly this season with Aberdeen.
“I maybe got caught a bit cold at left-back in terms of my positioning, especially for their second goal,” he said. “It was a tough night. They played well, they were on the front foot putting pressure on us. It was a hard game.”
With Robertson set to return at left-back on Sunday against San Marino, Shinnie fears he might be overlooked for a midfield role and relegated to the bench again. “I can’t see myself getting back into the team now,” he added. “Like I said, on a personal note I am gutted in myself. I know I am so much better. I’ve waited so long to get a chance. Two of the top players in Andy and KT being out gave me that opportunity. Andy is going to come back in against San Marino no matter what I did tonight, but it was a chance for me to show what I can do and I let myself down.”
Callum McGregor was similarly mortified. He wore the captain’s armband for the first time but was helpless as plans went awry in the opening minutes. The Celtic midfielder reflected on how quickly things can change. One minute he was being invited to McLeish’s hotel room to be informed he had been chosen as captain, one of the highlights of his career, the next he was leader of a team that were being accused of heaping fresh shame on the Scottish nation.
“It shows you how quickly things can change in football,” said McGregor, who was involved in a post-match confrontation with coach James McFadden. “On Wednesday I was buzzing, getting the chance to captain my country with everybody sending text messages through. To go to such a low with the performance and result, it just shows you how cruel football can be sometimes.” Having played in Astana on two previous occasions with Celtic, McGregor was one of the few who had some idea what to expect. But there was still an onus on Scotland to take something from the game.
“It’s embarrassing in terms of performance and result,” he said. “For the ones who have been here before [we know] it is a difficult place to come but everyone will be looking at this as a game on paper we should have won and it should have been comfortable. However, there are never any givens in football and having played so many games now I realise that.
“You’ve got to be at it and be on the front foot and start the game aggressively to make it an easier night for yourselves. But when you don’t do that anyone can cause you problems and credit to Kazakhstan because they did exactly that.”
“It’s really poor,” he added. “We didn’t start the game well enough. When you come here you’ve got to give yourself half a chance by getting through the first ten to 15 minutes, but we conceded twice and that killed us. We never really recovered from that at all. There is not much else to say, it’s just so disappointing. We were trying to come here on a high and start the campaign on a positive. When you get hit with a result like that, it’s so disappointing. Everyone in there is devastated. We can only hold our hands up and try to put it right in the next couple of games.”
Scotland play San Marino on Sunday and then Cyprus in June, three days before coming up against group favourites Belgium.