SHAUN Maloney knows that Scotland must improve quickly as a team to have any hope of qualifying for the World Cup finals.
The Wigan forward conceded Craig Levein’s men now face an uphill battle after taking just two points from their opening two home games against Serbia and Macedonia, despite hope and expectation of beginning the campaign with a maximum six points.
The Scotland manager claimed after Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with Macedonia that there was no need to worry about the situation and that the Group A table did not look damaging, even though his side already trail Serbia, Belgium and Croatia by two points.
Maloney’s own assessment of the national team’s efforts so far was perhaps more realistic.
Although unwilling to write off hopes of qualification just yet, the former Celtic player accepts the Scots must start delivering results or forget about making it to Brazil in 2014.
Maloney said: “The dressing room was pretty disappointed at the end but, if we improve, we know we can win games.
“The bottom line is whether or not we improve. We will need to if we are going to have any chance of qualifying.
“I don’t think our hopes are at an end just yet. It was obviously not the result we wanted, we’ve just made it very hard for ourselves now to qualify.
“It’s certainly not impossible but it’s going to be an uphill task.
“There were a few positives. There were some individual performances that were reasonably good but I think collectively, as a team, we are going to have to improve.
“If we are going to qualify, then we will need to improve as a team.”
Scotland’s next couple of fixtures look tricky. Levein’s men take on Wales in Cardiff on Friday 12 October and then travel to Brussels for a clash with Belgium four days later. Looking ahead to next month’s double-header, Maloney added: “Every game is going to be vital now. We are going to need to win away from home.
“The next gathering in three or four weeks’ time is going to be vital for us. It’s going to be massive, those two games.”
Asked if the players still have belief in the manager – whose record is now three wins from ten competitive outings – Maloney said: “I don’t think it’s us who needs to have faith in him, he obviously has to have faith in us and pick us.
“When we draw our first two games, there is going to be criticism.
“All the players and staff were in it for the results and when they don’t come, we have to take the criticism.
“I can only speak for myself but I’m pretty sure the majority of the team ran as much as possible for the manager.
“We do put our heart and soul into it for him and, hopefully, we will pick up as a team and the results will come. They need to if we are going to qualify.”
The night began with cheers for Andy Murray following his US Open triumph – the tennis player’s image was put on the big screens at Hampden and the crowd chanted “One Andy Murray” – but the cheers quickly turned to jeers as Macedonia took an early lead through Nikolce Noveski.
Kenny Miller hit back just before the interval but the Scots were unable to find a winner and more boos rang around Hampden at the final whistle.
Maloney said: “We could hear it but it’s not the end of the world. We were 1-0 down at the time so we can’t have too many complaints. It’s one of the things you need to deal with.
“Come the second half, particularly with the way we started the second half, the crowd got behind us.”