It was all too good to be true. Just when Scottish football appeared ready to leave the cringe factor in European competition behind, Kilmarnock provided another deeply unwelcome entry to its hall of shame on the continental stage.
The excruciating 2-0 defeat at home to semi-professional Welsh side Connah’s Quay Nomads, which saw Killie’s first foray into Europe for 18 years end at the first hurdle, is right up there in the catalogue of woe compiled by Scottish clubs over the past decade.
Make no mistake, it places a serious question mark over the credibility of Angelo Alessio as Kilmarnock manager even before last season’s third-place high fliers begin the new Premiership campaign next month.
But, while the Rugby Park club’s supporters digest Thursday night’s humiliation and fearfully ponder what life after Steve Clarke holds for them, Scottish football as a whole has to deal with another dull blow to hopes of improving its Uefa coefficient ranking.
The signs had been promising just a week ago. For the first time in 19 years, all of Scotland’s representatives in Europe had won the first leg of their opening ties. Granted, they were all against lower-ranked opponents from Bosnia, Gibraltar, Finland and Wales but it was refreshing nonetheless to see Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock all collect maximum coefficient points for the national cause.
Killie’s subsequent capitulation in the second leg, failing to emulate the other three clubs, who all completed their respective jobs professionally with victories again this week, was a depressing reminder of just how Scottish football’s European status has slumped so badly.
Since Falkirk staked their claim for Scotland’s worst-ever result in European competition when they lost to Vaduz of Liechtenstein a decade ago, there have been no shortage of contenders for that unwanted label.
Motherwell’s exit against Stjarnan of Iceland in 2014, St Johnstone’s elimination by Armenian side Alashkert in 2015 and Hearts’ embarrassment in losing to Maltese outfit Birkirkara in 2016 all spring to mind. Then two years ago, while St Johnstone were knocked out by Lithuanian team Trakai and Aberdeen made their exit against Apollon Limassol of Cyprus, Rangers managed to trump the lot with their desperate 2-1 aggregate defeat at the hands of Progres Niederkorn.
While the mortification of that result under the hapless Pedro Caixinha can never be fully erased by the Ibrox club, fate has handed them an opportunity to set the record straight against the Luxembourg minnows who they will face again in the second qualifying round of the Europa League next week.
The improvement Rangers have shown under Steven Gerrard should ensure lightning doesn’t strike twice. In the Champions League, Celtic should also be too strong for Nomme Kalju of Estonia, while Aberdeen surely have enough about them to overcome unheralded Georgian side Chikhura Sachkhere in their next Europa League tie.
Following Kilmarnock’s exit, the onus is now on the only three Scottish clubs to have lifted a European trophy to try and make sustained inroads in their respective competitions this season. Scotland are currently 20th in the Uefa coefficient rankings but a push back towards the top 15, which would reduce the number of qualifiers clubs face before the group stages, is still achievable if Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen can all secure an extended presence in Europe this year.
Until then, Scottish football’s reputation will be blighted by the kind of indignity inflicted upon it by Kilmarnock this week.