Scotland 0-1 Costa Rica: Sluggish start as Alex McLeish seeks right blend

By Martin DowdenBBC Scotland

Does it overly matter? It was only a friendly after all.

To the Scotland supporters that booed at the end of Friday's 1-0 loss to Costa Rica it seemed to.

They came, in limited numbers, in the hope of leaving Hampden Park with something to instil belief that under Alex McLeish things might be different.

Exactly the sentiment McLeish wants to ingrain in his squad as he begins his second spell as national manager.

Fans were left disappointed, particularly by a first-half performance that was uninspiring. The desired chinks of light were not particularly dazzling.

There was improvement in the second half when chances arrived. Players appeared more determined to close down opponents.

However, it was a defeat and it would be hard to argue that Scotland deserved much more overall.

Scotland manager Alex McLeish
McLeish was overseeing his first match since leaving Egyptian club Zamalek in May 2016

Let's get some perspective though. McLeish clearly experimented with this selection. It was a fact-finding mission.

If this game was about winning, the line-up would have been different, as it likely will be in the next friendly in Hungary on Tuesday.

Before any criticism goes overboard, it must be remembered that they faced an experienced Costa Rica side that will go to the World Cup finals in Russia.

The Central Americans were competent, technically proficient and efficient at handling possession.

They are not the minnows who shocked Scotland in 1990. In some ways, given our dwindling record of appearances at major finals, they could legitimately argue that those roles have been reversed.

Friday's game was a learning opportunity but also an opportunity missed to generate confidence for players and goodwill from supporters.

Pre-match, McLeish talked a good game. He stated that Scotland had to prove that they can score goals and win games. He wanted to generate belief and the green shoots of momentum.

This 90 minutes did little to help.

What were the positives? Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay looked more than comfortable at this level and will surely improve.

Lone striker Oli McBurnie showed in flashes that he can seize on an opportunity.

Oli McBurnie made his Scotland debut at Hampden
McBurnie led the line for Scotland as one of four new caps in the starting line-up

Scott McKenna, the third 21-year-old debutant, has performed well for Aberdeen this season and has the presence to suggest he has a future with more international experience.

Midfield substitutes Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and John McGinn showed they are better suited as starters.

What was highlighted were some familiar issues. Defensively, Scotland looked short, although there are others to come in such as Kieran Tierney.

The goal conceded was shabby. Callum Paterson, Charlie Mulgrew and Grant Hanley were made to look suspect by the sheer simplicity of it.

In the second half, Andrew Robertson seemed to be guided by an errant Sat-Nav as he allowed Bryan Ruiz to cut in from the left and hit the crossbar. Other than that, the Liverpool left-back was another positive going forward.

What McLeish seeks is a winning mentality. There's only one way to do that.

He also needs to generate excitement. Most of all, he needs to use this series of friendlies wisely to find the right mix before the Nations League begins in September.

Those competitive fixtures against Albania and Israel will have a significant bearing on Scotland's chances of qualifying for Euro 2020.

And that makes the forthcoming games against Hungary, Peru, Mexico and Belgium important. For now, results maybe don't matter but performances do.

The problem is another defeat in Budapest on Tuesday will bring a degree of scrutiny that McLeish, nor his players, really need at this stage.

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