At face value, this result could have all but ended even the most optimistic fans’ hope of qualification for the Fifa World Cup in Russia in two years time, especially with the game against England at Wembley looming in less than a month.
Off the back of a somewhat embarrassing draw at home to Lithuania only three nights before, a draw salvaged by a stoppage time header from James McArthur, Scotland fans had hoped for their team to bounce back with a resolute and defensive, but effective performance.
However, what they got was a tired, lacklustre showing that the Slovakian players were more than happy to take advantage of to gain their first points in Group F. It appears that whenever Scotland drop points in a ‘winnable game’ (if there is such a thing for Scotland anymore) the cries for the manager to be sacked or that there are too many English-born players in the team ring loud in their thousands both from in the stands and on social media.
We must look into the structure of the Scottish game from grassroots level to see why the Scottish national team’s progress has halted. The answer is simple: not enough quality young players are coming through. Long gone are the days of Jim Baxter, Denis Law and Billy Bremner – amongst others – running amok in front of 100,000 people at the Old Wembley to become the ‘unofficial world champions’; now, fans must settle for Grant Hanley and Russell Martin struggling to string two passes together in Trnava.
Yes, many will argue that Steven Fletcher was fouled in the lead up to the first goal, but over the years the Scottish players and coaches have become accustomed to blaming their failures on countless ‘what if’ moments: from the foul on Alan Hutton against Italy in 2007, to Chris Iwelumo’s unbelievable miss against Norway in 2008 with the goal at his mercy.
It is time for all concerned to stand up and take responsibility. Many countries, especially Belgium, are in the midst of another ‘golden generation’, which has no doubt passed Scotland by, with many fans wielding their frustrations that 35-year-old Gordon Greer is selected religiously by manager Gordon Strachan whilst 25-year-old Graeme Shinnie misses out despite putting in consistently impressive performances for Aberdeen.
Fans are also left speechless at Jordan Rhodes’ continued exclusion, despite scoring 161 goals in the last seven seasons in England, instead being treated to Steven Fletcher, who to his credit has scored nine goals in 30 appearances for Scotland, six of which were against Gibraltar and who became the first player since 1969 to score a hat-trick for Scotland, again against the mighty Gibraltar. However, there is no doubt that the introductions of Andrew Robertson, Oliver Burke, and Kieran Tierney have been a breath of fresh air for the national team setup.
Realistically, it is not too much to ask. Scottish fans look at their Welsh counterparts and wonder why they cannot be blessed with the same level of players and results.
We must push on from here to get younger players into the professional game and hopefully, one day, we can have them lining up in the dark blue shirt in front of 50,000 at Hampden Park – or better yet a major tournament – proudly singing ‘Flower of Scotland’.
Image courtesy of Ronnie MacDonald