Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wales v Scotland: It's over

Another day, another Scotland game. Another night spent wailing "why us" into a pint glass.

If two home draws left our dreams of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in ruins, defeat in Wales left a barren wasteland where those dreams used to be.

But we were unlucky.

Gareth Bale dived and Steven Fletcher's perfectly legitimate goal should have stood and would have knocked the stuffing out of Wales.

Perhaps. But the problem with indulging in a counter factual analysis of a game is that the other side can do the same.

Shaun Maloney has confirmed he touched Bale - "I can only apologise to my team-mates" - and would Fletcher's goal have proved decisive if Wales had already been allowed back in with the penalty that wasn't given against Christophe Berra?

But we're football fans. And football fans can't resist bemoaning that "we'd have been brilliant if it wasn't for the dodgy referee, the cheating millionaire and the blind linesman."

It becomes a problem if the "woe is me" approach becomes a habit though. And we might be at risk of doing that with Scotland.

Because Scotland are woeful. And nobody currently involved with the team seems able to halt the decline.

We couldn't have asked for better set of opening fixtures. In the horse trading involved in deciding the group schedule, Scotland won hands down.

At home against Serbia and Macedonia then a trip down to Wales.

A golden opportunity to get some wins, to build momentum.

We've blown it spectacularly.

Toothless and disjointed at Hampden, last night we edged clear in a tight first half and then, as this Scottish team so often do, retreated into our shells.

It became clearer and clearer as the second half wore on: this was ten men and one Gareth Bale playing against eleven molluscs.

The manager will speak of his disappointment, ruminate on how a bad refereeing call or two and a wonder strike robbed us of having the points to match the mythical progress he sees in his team.

A useful mask for him. A mask that is perhaps even legitimised by fans lining up to feed into the "we were hard done by" narrative.

It's not enough though.

If Levein came out and called Charlie Adam a fat, lazy bastard for his attempt to match Bale's run for the second goal I would respect him more.

If he announced that the cross shy Alan Hutton was only to be referred to as Dracula from now on I would think more of him.

The players would be miffed, the media would be in a frenzy.

But at least the manager would be giving some indication that he's not overseeing a squad where mediocrity is accepted.

Last night's game might be the one that finally does for the Levein era.

It probably shouldn't have lasted this long.

The way he tried to put a gloss on those two opening draws, the way the players cravenly nodded their agreement.

The clear message was that this was a collective with no clue about qualifying for a major championship. A manager and a squad that just don't get what's required of them.

Giving it your best shot and failing is one thing. Scotland don't offer that now. They perform poorly and that translates into poor results. When the final whistle blows they shrug their shoulders and say "this isn't over."

That clueless complacency shows on the pitch. And it comes from the coach.

Craig Levein has won three qualifying games in eleven attempts. Three. Two of them narrow wins against Liechtenstein.

Yet still he speaks of progress and prays for some luck to come his way. His players agree with him and his employers stand by him.

It's not bad luck and it's certainly not progress. We're not even standing still. We're in reverse with a group of players that should be more competitive than they ever really look.

Another qualifying campaign slips by. Seven have now passed by since we last played at a major tournament.

The art of qualification, once so ingrained in successive Scottish teams, has disappeared. A generation of players don't know how to get the job done.

They need the guidance of someone who does. Instead they fall into line behind the uninspiring leadership of someone who thinks a 0-0 draw at home is a decent way to launch a World Cup bid.

Not for the first time under this manager Scotland looked like they didn't know how to win the game last night.

Don't know how to win. Don't know how to qualify. It's becoming the Scottish way.

And for every day Levein remains in the post the deeper the culture of mediocrity will seep and the harder the recovery will become.