Boss McLeish stands defiant as Scotland left humiliated

Scotland manager Alex McLeish claimed he was “pretty good at bouncing back” as he brushed off questions over his future in the wake of a 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan.
Scotland's Liam Palmer (left) in action.Scotland's Liam Palmer (left) in action.
Scotland's Liam Palmer (left) in action.

McLeish’s side got their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to the worst possible start after losing two goals in the opening 10 minutes and they were three down before forcing the home goalkeeper into his only two saves just before the hour mark.

McLeish was missing six of the players who started in the victories over Albania and Israel in November, which earned a guaranteed play-off if Scotland fail to finish in the top two of a group that also contains Belgium, Russia, Cyprus and San Marino, who are their next opponents on Sunday.

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But he has found himself under pressure again following a painful night in the Astana Arena against a team who had only won three of their previous 40 competitive matches.

When it was put to McLeish that some might view the result as a sacking offence, he said: “I’ll just continue doing my job and suffice to say I’m not going to get drawn into that question.

“I don’t really rank defeats. I just feel in terms of losing then I have to bounce back. I always feel low after a (defeat) but I’m pretty good at bouncing back.”

The 60-year-old refused to give up hope of leading Scotland to qualification.

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“Of course, it’s never finished until it’s finished,” he said. “We bounced back from a poor performance in Israel and that’s what we must do after this game.

“We have other players to come back. We have players with more experience that have to come back to the Scotland squad. Obviously we need to have as strong a squad as we can if we’re going to be successful in qualification.”

Two of those players are left-backs in the form of Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, the former of whom at least will be able to face San Marino.

Their stand-in, Graeme Shinnie, allowed both early goalscorers to run off him but there was a vulnerability about the whole defence, which featured debutant Liam Palmer – the Sheffield Wednesday right-back – alongside David Bates and Scott McKenna.

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The team’s average age was less than 25 and the lack of experience was highlighted by the fact that Callum McGregor was captain in his 10th international.

McLeish said: “We had a lot of young guys winning first caps and early caps.

“In terms of the goals, getting inside us was something that we actually emphasised to the players. We never saw it through in reality.

“It could have been prevented with better positioning. The three finishes were pretty amazing but it was a poor night from us defensively and I say that as a team.

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“We had one chance just before they scored and I thought it’s looking quite lively for us, and then two goals in 12 minutes I think and it was a mountain to climb.

“And we never really got into gear again.”

Northern Ireland delivered the victory manager Michael O’Neill had called essential as they saw off Estonia 2-0 in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier at Windsor Park.

After a tough draw paired them with Holland and Germany in Group C, Northern Ireland made sure the most winnable fixture of all led to three points as Niall McGinn and Steven Davis struck in the second half, the latter from the penalty spot.

It was a first competitive win since September 2017, putting to bed the frustration of last year’s Nations League in which they failed to muster a point.