ACCEPTING any culpability for Scotland’s failure to eke out a goal in their opening 2014 World Cup qualifier was simply not on the agenda for Kenny Miller last night.
He was replaced ten minutes from the end of the scoreless draw against the Serbians by Jordan Rhodes, the Hampden crowd having sung themselves hoarse demanding the youngster’s introduction during the second period in no small part as a reaction to the hapless manner in which Miller appear to deal with a couple of headed opportunities. Yet asked about his passing up of two chances, the Vancouver Whitecap striker denied all knowledge.
“What chances?” he snapped. “I thought the one [James] Morrison put back over was offside and I didn’t react. I can’t remember another one. I’m disappointed we didn’t get a few goals because I thought we could have done. James Forrest’s shot could have gone in on another day.”
Yesterday’s home performance was one that divided opinion. Those who contributed to it felt it adequate while those watching it considered it sub-standard. A party line was unquestionably peddled by Craig Levein and his players, with Miller maintaining victory over Macedonia at home on Tuesday would render the opening week of their Group A campaign a success.
“Everyone seems to be wound up to think that we had to win but they’re a good team who weren’t going to come here and lie down,” Miller said. “We want to get three points in every game but it’s only at the end of the group that we’ll find out whether it was a good point or a bad one. If they’d scored at the end with the best chance of the game we’re coming away devastated. Both teams maybe feel a bit aggrieved that they didn’t score, so it’s probably the fair result. It was an open game and we can be quite happy with how we played. It was just in the final third that it didn’t really happen.”
Miller agreed that it would be an “exaggeration” to now describe the Macedonia match as “must win”. “If we win the rest of the games we’ll probably win the group,” he said. “We’ll be setting out to win and if we’re sitting on four points then I think that will be decent. The punters came here desperate for us to win the game, as we were.”
The same punters left disgruntled, boos inevitably providing the soundtrack that accompanied the final whistle. Miller wasn’t for reading too much into that. “I don’t think the disappointment from today’s result will carry into Tuesday,” Miller said. “They’ll be as passionate as ever. That’s what they do.”
The source of exasperation from those watching Scotland yesterday was that they unwittingly appeared passionless and passive for passages. The set-up of Miller up front backed by a five-man midfield seemed to invite Serbia to retain possession 30 yards from their goal in the opening period. Predictably, the lack of punch from Levein’s side will re-ignite the debate about fielding a twin strikeforce. That will also be fuelled as a result of Scotland’s attacks developing a thrust when Jamie Mackie and Rhodes were paired for the final ten minutes. Miller was willing to offer up a counter argument.
“We’ve been forced down that road before,” he said. “A lot of people called for it against Liechtenstein [in August 2010]: ‘Get Faddy, Miller and Boyd up front’. If we hadn’t won in the seventh minute of injury time we’d have been slaughtered. The manager will pick the team he thinks can go and win the Macedonia game. If that’s two up front or one up front, so be it. We’ll have a gameplan.”
Midfielder Charlie Adam also refused to join the mourners’ chorus about the first objective in a tight group – winning home games – despite having endured 90 minutes in which Scotland could not muster the oomph that was surely to be expected on the opening day of a World Cup campaign billed “the roar to Rio” above the programme booths dotted around the Hampden environs.
“It’s one of them; everybody’s put the expectation on now that we should qualify because we have two home games, but it doesn’t work like that... Serbia are 30 places above us in the rankings. We knew it was going to be a tough game, they’ve got good players but if we create that number of chances and and don’t get a break in the box and don’t play as well as we can, that’s the reality.” It is a reality that bites.