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16 of 020

Struggling Scotland held to deflating draw by stubborn Macedonia

• Scotland 1-1 Macedonia
• Miller 43; Noveski 11

Ewan Murray at Hampden Park

Craig Levein hadn't intended Scotland's World Cup qualifying campaign to open like this, or to be so immediately linked with discord. Levein criticised the "hysterical" reaction to a 0-0 draw between the Scots and Serbia on Saturday. Three days later, Hampden Park was again reduced to boos and jeers as Scotland failed to beat Macedonia. On this occasion, the hosts were actually indebted to their goalkeeper Allan McGregor for the claiming of a point. When Macedonia's head coach, Cedomir Janevski, expressed his disappointment at not returning to Skopje with victory he was not guilty of exaggeration at all.

Levein has presided over just three wins from 10 competitive matches. In that spell, the Scots have scored a mere 10 goals. Two of those wins arrived against Liechtenstein and the other against Lithuania; in short, there is no evidence Scotland can undertake the sort of winning run which would take them to Brazil in 2014. Thirteen qualifying points have been won from a possible 30 under Levein.

It is damaging to Levein's prospects that he rapidly seems to be losing a battle to win public hearts and minds. Scotland's next qualifying matches are away to Wales and Belgium; further struggles there will only crank up pressure on Levein's paymasters to instigate managerial change. In short, the manager's public optimism is tricky to fathom. There is also an increasing danger of it being completely out of touch with reality.

"We are two points behind three teams on four points, with 24 still to play for," Levein said. "If you look at the table, it doesn't look damaging at all. I'm very positive about where we are going. I look at the group and it isn't as bad as some people make out. For me, there is no need to get worried about the situation we are in now. We have to get victories at some point, I accept that. Playing away from home and sitting in might suit us."

Hampden was hollering its' disapproval after only 11 minutes of this tie. A Macedonia short corner completely bemused the Scotland defence and, while Nikolche Noveski appeared offside when played in by Ivan Trichkovski, a goal for the visitors resonated more than any sense of injustice. Things could have become even worse for Levein had the referee, as would have been entirely possible, adjudged McGregor to have illegally upended Mirko Ivanovski inside the Scottish penalty area. On the half hour mark, McGregor produced an excellent save from Agim Ibraimi, thereby endorsing Macedonia's attacking danger.

Rather than bombard the Macedonia goal in reply, Scotland were tame until Kenny Miller restored parity. Jamie Mackie was the creator, even if the equaliser wasn't sufficient to spare Levein further anger from the stands at the sound of the half-time whistle.

"We want a striker" was the next chant to emanate from the Tartan Army; Mackie was operating in that lone role after the withdrawl of Miller. One of Levein's troubles in his present role has been an inability to shed a tag of being an overly cautious manager.

Levein heeded cries from the punters by throwing on Blackburn Rovers' £8m forward, Jordan Rhodes, with 24 minutes to play. Either side of that change, Ferham Hasani rattled McGregor's goalframe and the goalkeeper denyied Mirko Ivanovski when one-on-one with the Macedonian striker.

"This group is going to be really tight indeed," insisted Levein. If the Scots are involved in such a compact shake-up, it would be quite a surprise.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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