Scotland 1 Macedonia 1: Levein left in a dark place as nation rage against second setback
23:22 GMT, 11 September 2012
Hours after Andy Murray’s elevation to the status of a Scottish sporting god, Craig Levein finds himself in a very different place. That of a man fighting for his job.
On the back of a second poor home performance in four days, the odds on the thrawn Fifer’s survival are lengthening by the minute. Publicly Levein remains defiant and bullish. In denial even.
‘We are two points behind three teams on four points, with 24 still to play for,’ stated the manager. ‘I’m very positive about where we are going.’
Take that: Kenny Miller fired back to silence his critics
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Webster, Berra, Dixon, Caldwell, Forrest, Maloney, Morrison (Rhodes 66), Mackie (Naismith 77), Miller (Adam 58).
Subs not used: Marshall, Hanley, Snodgrass, Cowie, Dorrans, McCormack, Foster, Phillips, Samson.
Goals: Miller 43
FYR Macedonia: Bogatinov, Georgievski, Sikov, Noveski, Popov, Ibraimi (Tasevski 89), Gligorov (Sumulikoski 70), Demiri, Trickovski (Hasani 37), Pandev, Ivanovski.
Subs: Pacovski, Mojsov, Grncarov, Ristic, Lazevski, Georgiev, Kristijian Naumovski.
Goals: Noveski 11
Booked: Ibraimi, Hasani, Gligorov, Pandev, Sumulikoski
Referee: Sergei Karasev (Russia)
He may be the only one. Past Scots
teams who qualified for major finals tended to win their home games.
With two points from two encounters in Glasgow, the Road to Rio now
looks strewn with boulders and obstacles.
Blood shot and weary following
Murray’s late-night Fairytale in New York, the nation has returned to a
more familiar sporting tale. That of the distinctly Grimm variety.
/09/11/article-2201776-14F716A7000005DC-86_634x447.jpg” width=”634″ height=”447″ alt=”Back on track: Miller (second right) celebrates his first-half equaliser” class=”blkBorder” />
Back on track: Miller (second right) celebrates his first-half equaliser
There were loud, lengthy boos at the
final whistle from the 32,430 crowd – the lowest attendance for a home
qualifier since 2001. More telling still, however, were the grumbles of
discontent when the manager replaced Scotland’s goalscorer Kenny Miller
with midfielder Charlie Adam. It was a far from ridiculous substitution,
but right now trust is fading fast.
‘We want a striker,’ demanded the
crowd. Levein is not noted for his willingness to accept free advice,
yet within minutes new golden boy Jordan Rhodes took to the field and
came close once or twice. Steven Naismith also came on in a desperate,
vain late bid to snatch all three points.
Who will dispute, however, that a
winner would have flattered Scotland If there was a fortunate hue to
the scoreline which witnessed the players in dark blue level at
half-time then it remained after 90 error-strewn minutes.
The hosts toiled and laboured their
way through a match during which the National Stadium seemed perpetually
in a state of simmering – sometimes verbal – dismay.
Come on: Scotland players celebrate their equaliser
Bad beginning: Nikolce Noveski opens the scoring for Macedonia
It took 43 minutes for a meaningful
chance to emerge. Kenny Miller duly claimed his 17th goal for his
country in a personal retort to his many critics. His display against
Serbia picked over and dissected, it was a sweet moment for the
32-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps striker. If ultimately a vain one.
He slotted home from 10 yards with his
left foot after James Morrison slid a precise pass through for Jamie
Mackie, the ball creeping past the lunging left foot of Vanche Shikov
and kindly into the path of the QPR striker.
Mackie, one of three changes to the
starting line up which drew with Serbia – 6-1 winners over Wales – had
every right to consider a shot. He opted instead for an unselfish square
ball to a lurking Miller, who slotted the ball into the net to some
Frankly, there had been little before
that to suggest Scotland had it in them. In contrast, Macedonia –
inspired by the peerless and immaculate Goran Pandev – had begun the
game with some purpose and poise.
They took the lead in 11 minutes and were well worth their advantage.
Grin: Craig Levein seemed happy enough before kick-off
There was a suspicion of offside
against scorer Nikolche Noveski as he slotted home Ivan Trichovski’s low
cross, but no arguing with the quality of the lead-up play. Macedonia,
in truth, might have scored more in an opening half hour when Scotland
looked cloven-hoofed and industrial in the face of a footballing
masterclass from the sublime Pandev.
A former Serie A and Champions League
winner with Inter Milan, he was simply majestic on Tuesday. Not for
nothing is he a personal favourite of Jose Mourinho.
His graceful brilliance was a source
of perpetual embarrassment for the Scots. He pulled players from the
home nation inside out at times, then turned back to do it all again.
Fortunately for the team in dark blue, his team-mates couldn’t always match his speed of thought.
Agim Ibrahimi, the No 19, came
closest. As Pandev twisted and bamboozled his way past the flummoxed duo
of Shaun Maloney and Alan Hutton he dinked a quite delightful ball
through for his attacking team-mate – Ibrahimi’s shot blocked by the
legs of Allan McGregor.
It should have been 2-0. Yet Miller’s goal offered Scotland a degree of hope which, frankly, they barely deserved.
Clump: Charlie Adam piles in
Utterly devoid of creativity or
imagination, better things were demanded of Levein’s team in the second
half. Broadly speaking, however, the match followed a similar pattern.
Scotland possession aplenty followed by an abject final ball.
Before the hour point, indeed, Macedonia again created two terrific chances to score.
Raiding right back Georgievski covered
40 yards in quick time to race onto a Demeri lay off after more
exemplary vision from Pandev.
Scotland survived and did so again
moments later when Macedonia substitute Ferhamn Hasani smashed a
thumping right foot shot flush against McGregor’s left-hand post from 20
Predictably, all of this added to the air of growling derision building a head of steam within Hampden.
Tribute: Andy Murray's exploits were celebrated
The introduction of Adam – for goalscorer Miller – brought a chorus of boos. Followed swiftly by demands for a striker.
In the aftermath of the Serbian
stalemate, Levein had issued a defiant message to supporters. He would,
he insisted, continue to do things his way.
As chants for Rhodes intensified, however, the manager listened.
The 8million Blackburn man replaced
an out of touch Morrison to rousing roars of approval. His first touch
was a downward, diving header from a James Forrest cross which fizzed
inches wide of the post.
The general ebb and flow and pattern
of the game remained, however. Pandev played, Scotland reacted.
Invariably just a second or two too late.
Cheery: Macedonian fans were in good voice as they arrived at Hampden Park
The Napoli man’s impeccable passing in
behind a static defence created another fabulous opportunity when
Ivanovski raced in on goal. He looked odds on to score until McGregor
spread his body to block the low shot across goal with his right leg.
In that moment, he earned his man of the match award. He might also have saved Craig Levein’s bacon.
Who beyond the man himself, however,
can deny that a point against the team ranked 97th in the FIFA rankings
makes the manager’s prospects look increasingly bleak The people have
spoken and the SFA will find it hard to turn a deaf ear.
Up above: A rainbow graced the sky above Hampden Park before kick-off