Kazakhstan 3-0 Scotland: Alex McLeish is living on borrowed time

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland

After a performance so scarily grim that it would haunt a house, Alex McLeish is not just living on borrowed time as Scotland head coach. If his post-match remarks are anything to go by, he's living in a parallel universe too.

No Scottish football fan needed any reminding of the embarrassment the hapless tourists inflicted on the nation in Kazakhstan, a country with a world ranking of 117 and a home record showing four wins in 38 competitive games before this horror show unfolded. But, just in case the whole experience hadn't demoralised every last supporter, the manager added to the general mood of mortification when he said that Scotland had started the game well.

McLeish is a good man, but being an honourable and decent human being and a coach with a lot of silverware in his locker doesn't give him immunity from flak when he talks this way. Whatever authority he was left with on Thursday was stripped away in that moment. On what planet can a 1-0 deficit after six minutes and a 2-0 deficit after 10 be deemed a decent beginning?

There are many angry bulls among the Scotland support right now. Waving a red rag in their direction with words that fly in the face of reality was not the smartest play.

'The uneasy ceasefire is at an end now'

His team passive and bewildered, his defence disorganised and gullible, his gameplan barely discernible. There was no attitude in his team, no aggression, no leadership. That's on the players, but it's also on him. He picked them, he set them up, he sent them out there.

Key men were missing, of course. The journey across six time zones was long, the time difference challenging, the plastic pitch far from ideal. If you are a forgiving soul, you'll throw all of this stuff into the mix - along with the fact that McLeish has already secured Scotland a back-door route to the Euro 2020 play-offs via the Nations League - and you'll give him time to get over this calamity.

If you never believed in him in the first place, or if your support was lukewarm, you'll be among the growing number of people who think McLeish has got to go before another campaign goes the way of the last one and the one before that and the one before that.

He has claimed a place in the Nations League play-offs. Fair enough, but going up against Albania and Israel is not akin to climbing Everest. There's credit due, but a limit to the credit. Most experienced managers would back themselves to do what McLeish did.

Some performances are so horrible, so utterly lacking in redeemable features and cause so much alarm about the months and years ahead that they almost demand an instant dismissal. This is one of them.

It comes down to faith and trust. The Nations League wins over Albania and Israel saw a suspension of the disbelief that is widely held about McLeish and his management team among large sections of the support. The silence of the critics was not a cessation of hostilities but an uneasy ceasefire.

Peace is at an end now. McLeish is getting pelted once more and none of it is pretty.

Was it the worst-ever loss? Or the second worst? Or the third worst? Who cares. The unarguable truth is that it was lamentable. It only added to the fatalism that exists in parts of Scottish football, an attitude brought about by so many past failures and a belief that nothing glorious is going to happen in the future.

People are not accepting of the kind of muck they witnessed in Kazakhstan, but they are accustomed to it. It shouldn't be this way. Scotland should be better.

Kazakhstan are not a good team. There is a mountain of evidence to prove the point.

Just because Scotland made them look good does not mean they are good. It means Scotland woefully under-performed and that humiliation should have a consequence - at the very least, immediate thought about McLeish's future.

'What are the SFA going to do now?'

Even without Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Fraser, Scotland still should have had enough weapons to win if they were sent out with the right attitude and the right shape. You could pore over the fault lines in McLeish's selection and his formation, but the truly objectionable thing was the attitude. His team was mauled to death by a kipper.

It's just as well that the Nations League route exists because in previous years we'd already be sounding the death knell for Scotland's qualification chances. Getting into the top two was always going to be hard. Now it's fiendishly hard and almost unattainable if history is any guide.

In the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Scotland took four points from six in their opening two games and didn't make it. In the Euro 2016 qualifiers, they took 10 points from a possible 15 at the start and didn't make it.

You can go back and back. In the Euro 2008 qualifiers, Scotland won four of their first five matches and still they didn't get the job done.

It's not easy. Does anybody seriously believe that, after getting humbled by Kazakhstan, the Scots are about to metamorphose under McLeish and go on a winning run that will restore the confidence of a nation? Does McLeish believe it himself? Does the Scottish FA?

The unavoidable question is what are his employers going to do now? Do they sit and pray that McLeish can recover ground and make the most of the golden ticket that is the Nations League play-off? Or do they come to the conclusion that, after more than 20 years of failure to make a major championship, McLeish can't be trusted with that golden ticket?

We all suspect we know the answer. The convenient thing would be to do nothing - and that's probably where we're heading. McLeish is in for an awful few days. His words were as uninspiring and as unconvincing as his team on Thursday.

Surely he should have been furious, but that fury did not even come close to being vented. There was no illustration of his angst, no thunderous vow to put it right. There wasn't much of anything, just a bit of an empty vessel, which, in a sense, was appropriate given the way his team had played.


Top Stories

Around Scottish sport