SCOTLAND captain Callum McGregor last night played down the bust-up he appeared to have with coach James McFadden in the immediate aftermath of the dire Euro 2020 qualifying defeat to Kazakhstan.
McGregor was seen exchanging words with McFadden on the touchline as the national team walked across to applaud the fans who had travelled across to Nursultan to support them.
He was visibly annoyed that Scott McTominay, the Manchester United midfielder who had come on in the second-half in the Astana Arena and played alongside him, had raced straight up the tunnel at the final whistle.
Alex McLeish revealed afterwards that McTominay had made himself available to play in the opening Group I fixture despite having an upset stomach and was keen to get back to the changing room quickly.
McGregor made light of the incident with McFadden following a performance which he described as embarrassing and explained that he was keen for every member of the squad to show their gratitude to the Tartan Army.
“It was just frustration, it was nothing personal,” he said. “I didn’t even shout to James. One of the boys (McTominay) had gone in early and I wanted us all to go over and clap the fans.
“I just that as captain I felt we should go to the fans who had spent a lot of money to come here and support the nation. I thought we should get everyone together to say thank you for coming. It was nothing to do with James, I was just trying to get everyone together to go to the fans.
“I just saw him (McTominay) run in and I was trying to get everyone together. It’s important we show everyone we’re still together as a nation and that we’re going to try and put this right.”
McGregor, who had been made skipper by manager Alex McLeish in the absence of both Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, admitted the Scotland display had been unacceptable.
“It’s really poor,” he said. “We didn’t start the game well enough. When you come here you’ve got to give yourself half a chance by getting through the first 10 to 15 minutes, but we conceded twice and that killed us. We never really recovered from that at all.
“It wasn’t the performance we expected from this group of players.”
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 21, 2019
“There is not much else to say, it’s just so disappointing. We were trying to come here on a high and start the campaign on a positive. When you get hit with a result like that, it’s so disappointing. Everyone in there is devastated. We can only hold our hands up and try to put it right in the next couple of games.”
McGregor added: “It shows you how quickly things can change in football. On Wednesday I was buzzing, getting the chance to captain my country with everybody sending text messages through. To go to such a low with the performance and result, it just shows you how cruel football can be sometimes.
“You just try to steady the game and try to get us back into it. There is not much else you can do, other than try to rally the boys and get them forward up the pitch and try to create a couple of chances.
“We actually created a couple, and if we had taken maybe one we would get back into the game quickly. That didn’t happen, and we’ve got a mountain to climb when the third one goes in.
“It’s a horrendous place for us to come, we (Celtic) have never won a game here. Going into the game I was mindful of that as well, I know how difficult the atmosphere can be.
“That’s why I was trying to place the onus on trying to get through the first 15 minutes to give ourselves a chance. The boy (Yuriy Pertsukh) hit a worldy finish (for the first goal), and we switch off for the second one. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb straight away.”
McGregor, though, insisted the national team, who now play San Marino in Serravalle on Sunday, can still finish in the top two in Group I and secured one of the two automatic qualification spots available for the Euro 2020 finals.
“We’ve got to be positive, dust ourselves down to get a good result to get the campaign back on track right away,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll be really disappointed tonight, but we travel in the morning and we’ve got to pick ourselves up and get a positive result.
“Yes, it’s embarrassing in terms of performance and result. For the ones who have been here before it is a difficult place to come, but everyone will be looking at this as a game on paper we should have won and it should have been comfortable.
“However, there are never any givens in football and having played so many games now I realise that, You’ve got to be at it and be on the front foot and start the game aggressively to make it an easier night for yourselves. But when you don’t do that anyone can cause you problem and credit to Kazakhstan because they did exactly that.”
The abject display and poor result has increased the scrutiny of McLeish despite Scotland winning their Nations League group and securing a Euro 2020 play-off place in November, but McGregor feels the players must take a huge share of the responsibility as well.
“It’s a collective,” he said. “The players didn’t do ourselves justice at all and we’ve got to take that on the chin. We’re a tight group and although we’re not disregarding the disappointment we’ve got to dust ourselves down and go again on Sunday to show everyone we have half a chance in this qualification group.”