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Craig Levein running out of excuses as Scotland limp to Hampden draw

Published on Wednesday 12 September 2012 00:00

SCOTLAND slumped to a dispiriting draw against Macedonia last night, leaving their hopes of qualification for the 2014 World Cup hanging in the balance after just two games in Group A.

Manager Craig Levein declared he was more frustrated than anyone after the result, which followed Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Serbia, but insisted there was no need for hysteria with eight games still to play in the qualifying campaign.

Yet the result means Scotland have two points from their opening two fixtures in qualifying Group A – two points fewer than the apparently conservative total which assistant coach Peter Houston had deemed would be acceptable. The Serbs, meanwhile, thrashed Wales 6-1 to go top of the group on goal difference, while joint favourites Belgium and Croatia drew 1-1.

And, while Levein had arithmetic on his side when he pointed out that his team were just two points behind those three others with 24 points still to play for, it was the manner of the draw, rather than the actual score, which left little room for hope.

As the manager accepted, the Scots took some time to settle, but although they played with more menace in the second half, the fact that home goalkeeper Allan McGregor was named man of the match told its own story. The Besiktas ’keeper had several important direct saves to make, while his Macedonian opposite number had little more than the odd threatening cross ball to deal with.

The visitors, who lost 1-0 to Croatia at the weekend, opened the scoring early on before Kenny Miller equalised shortly before half-time. The 11th-minute goal by Nikolce Noveski – who looked half-a-yard offside – rocked Craig Levein’s team, and for much of the first half it was the Macedonians who looked more at ease. But Miller’s equaliser settled the nerves of the home team, and in the second half they were more confident and creative.

“We struggled a little bit to really get going,” Levein accepted. “The second half was better than the first, but it was a struggle.

“We’ve seen in the last two games that this group is going to be very tight indeed. We’d love to have all six [points], or four, but that’s football. We probably played into their hands a little bit, playing so many attacking players.

Losing that first goal put us on the back foot, but all credit to the players, they kept going.”

Levein insisted that the result had left him feeling disappointed, but at the same time suggested that there was no cause for hysteria. “There’s nobody more frustrated after tonight’s match than me,” he added. “I would have loved to win the match and so would the players.

“We didn’t start the game well and the tempo wasn’t what it should be. It was up to us to make the running. I was hoping we could be better creatively and score more goals, but I never thought they would not get scoring opportunities.”

Asked how damaging the position in Group A was, he continued: “Look at the table and it doesn’t look damaging at all. We’re two points, three teams on four points, and there are 24 points still to play for. We’d much rather be sitting with four, but what’s done is done.

“There’s no need to get worried about the situation. We’ll have to get victories somewhere, of course we will. But at the moment there’s no point in looking ahead to what might happen.

“I’m very positive where we’re going. The situation in the group isn’t as bad as people might make out.”

Macedonia coach Cedomir Janevski was disappointed that his team had not won. “We played very well,” he said. “My players deserve my congratulations for a good game, good structure and good discipline.

“It’s a pity we don’t go back to Skopje with three points. We had two or three chances to score. But this gives us more hope for the coming games in Skopje against Serbia and Croatia. It’s still eight games and anything is possible.”

As Levein said, the second half was better from the home team’s point of view. But the improvement was relative. Although they pressed forward in numbers right to the end, Scotland could not carve out many real scoring chances. The evening ended, as Saturday afternoon did, in boos from the home support as the teams left the field.

It had begun in far more celebratory mood, as the crowd sang “There’s only one Andy Murray” in homage to the US Open winner as the giant screens showed an image of the Scot in his moment of triumph. The public-address announcer had urged the spectators to get behind the home team as they tried to stretch this glorious summer of sport just one night further, but it was a chill evening, more autumnal than summery, and the match offered little to enthuse the Scotland fans.

Taken from the Scotsman

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