Scotland were left embarrassed following a 2-1 defeat to Israel. Joel Sked gives his take on the horrible evening in Hafia.
No excuses, it was deserved
That was a Thursday night which could have been spent doing anything else. It doesn’t matter what. Whether it was watching ‘Press’ on BBC, putting a wash on, staring into the abyss for 90 minutes or having a colonoscopy. Anything would have been more productive and enjoyable than watching the dross Scotland conjured up.
John Souttar was harshly sent-off, meaning Scotland had to play the final 30 minutes or so with ten men. If anything, Scotland looked better with the man disadvantage. Yet, it’s hard to get any worse than absolute guff. Because that’s exactly what the team served up.
There were so many individual errors, whether forced or unforced, confusion seeped into every pore, good players looked incapable of football. Scotland were reminiscent of the England team under Mike Bassett when they drew with Slovenia, or drew with Egypt or were thumped 4-0 by Mexico.
Except this wasn’t a low-budget satirical comedy. It should be important to remember that, because, without even attempting it, the Scottish national team are doing a better job than many satirists.
Okay, 4-4-2 may not be the answer but it is clear that there are some real issues with the back three. Although, perhaps most worrying of all, is the reports that Callum McGregor had to ask the bench during the first half whether the side were playing 4-5-1.
There were certainly times in the first half where Scotland seemed to drop into a 4-5-1 shape with Johnny Russell drifting to the right and Andy Robertson on the left. But in the main it looked the 3-4-1-2 many expected. Whatever it was, it didn’t work.
Against Israel, a team behind the Faroe Islands, Kyrgyzstan and Benin in the FIFA rankings there were times where Scotland were a back five. It is an aspect of the formation which has been raised by concerned pundits. If you don’t have the ball the wing-backs get pushed back and the team end up hemmed in.
Scotland needed their midfield to get on the ball, control possession, bring the team up the park and therefore allow Stephen O’Donnell and Andy Robertson to play higher.
Instead John McGinn and particularly Kevin McDonald produced error-strewn performances. The Fulham man spent more time sliding in to tackle after a poor touch or not reading the game correctly.
A pass from the midfield was mostly followed by a groan. Play was slow and ponderous, lacking any direction or tempo whatsoever.
Defensively the midfield was pulled apart far too easily with the central players moving to the wings to close down opponents due to the wing-backs being so deep. Therefore there was wide open spaces to run and pass into centrally.
A 3-5-2 can be a very handy system but it only accentuates poor play. And boy did it do just that with Scotland performance.
Robertson and/or Tierney
The Andy Robertson/Kieran Tierney debate is going to be Scotland’s very own Frank Lampared/Steven Gerrard conundrum. Shoehorn them into a system which is faltering, play one at left-back and another out of position or play just one full stop?
It will take a brave manager to do the latter. They are the most talented duo in the squad but something certainly isn’t right.
Robertson wasn’t the Liverpool version. His display was more akin to Djimi Traore. His crossing was dreadful, he wasn’t confident with the ball, out of possession he was disorientated, taking up some unusual positions.
Much has been made of him not being a wing-back. However, people seem to forget that’s exactly the position he played for Hull City which earned him his move to Liverpool. Excuses can be made, and the aforementioned midfield issue certainly didn’t help him, but individually he has to produce better. He’s too good a player to deliver such inept 90 minutes.
As for Tierney. The own goal was a product of a player who didn’t know what he was doing at centre-back.
It is okay playing the position at home to Albania or for Celtic at home to Kilmarnock. It’s different in a game where you are being battered or down to ten men.
When the ball was wide on the right he found himself standing next to Scott McKenna marking one forward. He soon realised he wasn’t in the correct position, rushed over to correct his error and sclaffed the ball into the corner.
Against Belgium he was being pulled out of position with Roberto Martinez’s side exploiting the space behind Robertson.
It is easy enough to spot the issues with the dynamic between the duo, but a lot harder to come up with a solution. Answers on a postcard.
Allan McGregor. If Scotland were beaten by four or five goals, could there be any arguments?
The 36-year-old has firmly established himself as No.1 for Scotland. There is little doubt that if Craig Gordon was between the sticks it would have been a similar performance. However, McGregor’s club form has been excellent, coming up with big saves at crucial moments. And he has brought that to the international scene.
Aside from McGregor, after an evening like that, it is hard to come up with much more.
The team are still in a good position to win the group. There are talented Scottish players. Things can, nay have to, get better.
Disorganisation reigns supreme
You have chaos, you have organised chaos, then you have disorganised chaos. It is a particular speciality of Scottish football.
It was seen on the pitch in Israel. The players didn’t know what they were doing. There were far too many gaps in the centre of midfield and Scotland were easy to play through and around.
Alex McLeish said that he was planning on bringing Scott McKenna on for John Souttar before the Hearts defender was sent-off. The only problem was that McKenna had been brought on 15 minutes earlier.
Within 24 hours of the kick-off in a stifling Haifa the players had spent five hours on a plane and two hours on a bus, as per Paul Barnes. They shouldn’t have bothered leaving the bus and just not turned up like Estonia all those years ago.
It is emblematic of Scottish football as a whole.
Currently, there is an exciting battle at the top of all four SPFL divisions, albeit it’s still early. There are big names, exciting players, packed out stadia. All in spite of the s***show that surrounds it, and governs it.
There’s the confusion over the disciplinary system in the country, where players and managers are getting bans for diving and celebrating, while others are getting away with kicking opponents.
And, of course, the Betfred Cup semi-final saga. There were so many issues and holes with how the SPFL dealt with the semi-final line-up that it requires McNulty, Bunk and the rest of The Wire cast to put it together.
Back with the national team, we have the cost of tickets for friendlies and games against Israel and Albania. It’s as if the SFA are actively encouraging fans not to come to Hampden Park. Ah, Hampden Park. There’s another one.
As was the appointment of Alex McLeish. Remember that? The Michael O’Neill farce? McLeish returned as Scotland manager following short and unsuccessful stints at Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest, Genk and Zamalek.
More recently the handling of Paul Gascogine’s potential induction into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame nomination. It was reported at least one SFA official planned to boycott to the dinner due to his past. This is the same SFA which employ Malky Mackay.
Sometimes you just have to laugh. Well, a lot of time you just have to laugh.
Incompetence is rewarded, commons sense is disregarded. No wonder fans feel so distant from the governing body and the person who runs the SFA’s Twitter account has perhaps the toughest gig in Scotland alongside the Scotrail social media operators.
It’s scary to think what could be achieved with a modicum of competence. Then again, it wouldn’t be so funny.
• READ MORE: Israel 2-1 Scotland: How the Scotland players rated