/Five things we learned from Scotlands abject display in Kazakhstan

Five things we learned from Scotlands abject display in Kazakhstan

Artificial surface or not, there is no way that Scotland should be without key players simply because a qualifying match is to be played on an artificial surface.

Manager Alex McLeish is in a difficult position in that he doesn’t want to alienate players who are willing to play for their country given the raft of call-offs that he has habitually faced during his second stint as Scotland boss, but if a player like Ryan Fraser can post snaps of him training full-pelt in Dubai with his club Bournemouth on the same day that his nation are crying out for his creativity, then surely he could have braved a match on a plastic pitch?

It will be interesting to see if our rivals in the group afford their own star players the same treatment, but while never advocating putting a player’s health at risk, if UEFA decree these pitches are safe then we just have to roll with the punches.

Scotland have nowhere near the depth required to voluntarily leave star men out.

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The 4-2-3-1 system with width from the likes of James Forrest had worked for Alex McLeish in the double-header against Albania and Israel in November and saw Scotland claim top spot in their UEFA Nations League group, so it was no surprise to see him persevere with it here.

The only problem was though that without Steven Fletcher up top as his lone striker to hold the ball up and bring others into play it just never got Scotland up the pitch.

Oli McBurnie was deployed in that role and was isolated and bullied by the Kazakh backline, and as a result, what were Scotland’s most potent weapons on paper – their wide men – just never got into the game. Forrest, who scored five goals in that November double-header, barely had a sniff, while Oli Burke faded badly after couple of early promising runs down the right.

By the time McLeish altered the system at the interval, first to a back three with Liam Palmer in a more advanced role and then to a 4-4-2 with Forrest on the left, the players looked as if they hadn’t a clue where they should be.

Evening Times: James Forrest and Islambek KuatJames Forrest and Islambek Kuat

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For some, the knives have been out for McLeish since the day and hour he was appointed. An awful start to his second reign with the appalling friendly schedule he was handed gave ammunition to his critics, but he managed to thumb his nose at them by recovering with wins over Albania and Israel to guarantee at least a place in the play-offs for Euro 2020 by winning Scotland’s UEFA Nations League Group.

That was a temporary reprieve for McLeish though, with the showing of his players in Kazakhstan up there with the most shambolic performances we have seen from the national side, leaving him fighting an uphill battle already after one game of this campaign to win over his detractors.


The Aberdeen skipper is characterised at club level for his commitment, outstanding work-rate and no little skill in the middle of the park, but he showed none of those qualities here at left-back.

To be fair to Shinnie, he was press-ganged into playing there simply due to the absence of Scotland captain Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, but even allowing for the fact he has not regularly played in the role for a number of years now, he still looked startingly out of his depth.

A significant portion of blame for all three of Kazakhstan’s goals could be laid at his door, as he allowed Pertsukh to run off him for the first, was caught with a simple ball inside him for the second, and was day-dreaming under a high cross along with Aberdeen teammate Scott McKenna for the third.

The blame for the defeat does not lie solely with Shinnie, and he has the strength of character to bounce back from this, but it is to be hoped that Scotland will not be without their two best players ever again.

Evening Times: Graeme Shinnie cuts a dejected figureGraeme Shinnie cuts a dejected figure

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With both Tierney and Robertson expected to be passed fit for the game against San Marino on Sunday, it is likely that the Celtic man will be shifted across to right-back. Unfortunately, neither of the two natural right-backs in the squad have made any sort of pitch to nail down the position.

It may have been viewed as rather harsh on Stephen O’Donnell to be overlooked for that berth in Kazakhstan given his steady enough showings there since being brought into the Scotland fold, and he would have felt especially hard done by after watching Liam Palmer’s debut.

The Sheffield Wednesday man can’t be written off after one game, but when Tierney is fit, neither he nor O’Donnell will get a look in.

Evening Times: Johnny Russell, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Findlay and Stephen O'DonnellJohnny Russell, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Findlay and Stephen O’Donnell

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