Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Scotland v Lithuania: Double header deflation

Another Scotland game, more howls of anguish.

"We were robbed/cheated/denied natural footballing justice."

Scotland v Czech Republic followed that old familiar pattern and we all felt rank rotten at the end.

Football's an emotional game and Scotland can tease emotions like few other teams.

But then you calm down and realise that, actually, we were implicated in our own downfall.

Not least because, in a game between two mediocre teams, we were second best for long stretches.

And we showed that old failing of panicking when ahead, never quite sure what to do, not knowing how to close a game out.

The referee - and it seems that our new found respect for whistlers doesn't extend to foreigners given some of the opprobrium heaped on Kevin Blom since Saturday evening - made a crucial error but he wasn't the only guilty party.

A shame because as I wrote before the game there seemed to be a hint of optimism in the September air. It would, as always, have been nice to see that optimism repaid and interesting to see if, even for a brief stretch, confidence from the Tartan Army could have fed belief in the team. A self sustaining confidence cycle to see us through the lest of the campaign.

Others have been quick to absolve the referee or diving Czechs of any blame and instead focus on the manager.

Maybe a decision will have to be made at the end of qualifying on Craig Levein's future and he's presided over some less than vintage performances.

Yet where would his replacement come from? This no longer seems a coveted position. Even Walter Smith and Alex McLeish who seemed at times to prosper in the role - although falling short of qualification - were quick to jump ship when other roles presented themselves.

Was his team selection wrong? Could he have been more attack minded on Saturday?

I honestly don't know. A commitment at one end of the field might have left us more exposed at the other end.

And it was Levein who took the gamble on Darren Fletcher and saw his captain reward him with an assist and a goal. A goal that looked like it might just have been enough.

It wasn't though.

And so the recriminations were free to fly and the propsect of another major championship without Scotland looms large.

Where there's hope, there's a manager paying lip service to battling on to the end.

It all looks quite futile now.

Not entirely pointless though. The remaining games can offer co-efficient or ranking succour.

They're also a platform for Levein to show that when he speaks of the progress the team's making he's not spouting rubbish.

And that starts tonight against a Lithuanian side likely to be obdurate and organised but, again, not world beating.

Circumstances dictate that the team looks like this:

McGregor, Whittaker, Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley, Naismith, Fletcher, Cowie, Bannan, Morrison, Goodwillie.

The tried, tested and apparently trusted 4-5-1. Would David Goodwillie - a Scotland player for all of 14 minutes - have predicted a few months ago that he's be starting this game as the lone striker?

As ever it's less the formation and more the way you set out. At times on Saturday Scotland seemed worryingly unsure about that.

Let's hope they've learnt from that. Tonight might be essentially meaningless but Saturday's deflation has left us looking for some comfort.