Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not So Mellow Yellow

Scotland were always had a mountain to climb in qualifying for Euro 2012. After a spineless display in Sweden last night it seems that Ben Nevis has just become the Northeast Ridge of K2.

I was in two minds about the value of a friendly so close to the start of the domestic season. One 3-0 defeat later and I'm convinced we shouldn't have bothered.

Obviously this was no more than a learning exercise. Sadly, it had all the comforts of double maths first thing on a Monday morning after a heavy weekend of alcopops in the local park.

An inexperienced defence was exposed, a five man midfield (two sitting, three further forward) was ineffectual and Steven Fletcher was isolated up front.

In goals Allan McGregor overcame his pantomime villain billing and was the stand-out performer on a night when positives were hard to find.

The confidence provided by Craig Levein's debut against the Czech Republic drained away after only three minutes, the time it took for our yellow shirted heroes to turn into the cowards of the county.

Lee Wallace was caught on the left, Garry Kenneth was pulled out wide, Christophe Berra disappeared and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was free to jog on to Pontus Werbloom's low cross and make it 1-0.

When three of your new look back four could consider themselves culpable in the loss of an early goal you know that it's going be a long, long night.

That Sweden could only add two more goals through Emir Bajrami and Ola Toivonen was down to a combination of McGregor, bad finishing and the hosts' satisfaction that this was a game already won with ease.

Levein was composed in defeat:

"I knew that, by picking this team, I was taking a bit of a gamble and it did not work. But, hey, these things happen. It is a disappointing night, but there are fairly valid reasons for that. If you put a lot of people together who have not played together, these things can happen."

Valid reasons? Possibly but their validity does not make them any less bleak. Qualification is going to be difficult with some semblance of a settled first team. Last night proved that it will be impossible if the campaign is beset by injuries.

Strength in depth is an alien concept in Scottish football at the moment. Players who the manager would have wanted to stake their claims for starting places failed. It's difficult to see how Levein can shape the Scotland team he wants if he has to rely on players like Kenneth, Kirk Broadfoot or Kevin Thomson, although it seems unfair to single them out on a night of abject performances.

Against the Czechs Graham Dorrans played his way into Levein's starting eleven. A few might have played their way out of his squad last night.

Yes, we have to remember that this was a meaningless friendly. But it didn't take long for the optimism of the Levein era to fade away, this was a Scotland team that looked as disjointed and shaky as a Burley era team.

It was left to James McFadden to sum up a night of frustration:

"It was not good enough. We did not create many chances, gave away silly goals and it could have been more if I am honest.

"We have got to play better than that, because it is not enjoyable."

Quite.