Desmond Kane

Levein’s odd choices leave Scotland stumbling in the dark

Desmond Kane

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Craig Levein sported a nifty pair of dark glasses during Scotland's 0-0 draw with Serbia at Hampden Park yesterday. He might as well as have been wearing a blindfold.

Scotland are not yet a hopeless cause in a murderous World Cup qualifying Group A, not quite an example of the blind leading the blind - not yet at least. But there are points of real concern to be addressed when one considers the section Levein's team find themselves stationed in for these latest edition of timeworn fixtures. Scotland seem to be blindsided by a worrying lack of forward planning, emanating mainly from some odd decision-making in the technical area.

There are none so blind as those that will not see. Or managers who choose not to. Call me old-fashioned, but I do not think it is good enough for a Scotland manager to admit that changes should have been made earlier in a match when said match has finished. This is especially true when the draw was an opportunity squandered, no matter how much spin one tries to put on it to the contrary.

Coached by the former Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter hatchet man Sinisa Mihajlovic, a figure who would have appeared ripe to oversee an army in a previous life, Serbia had an average age of 23, but certainly knew how to handle themselves in collecting the point they came for.

Serbia drew the match, but left Glasgow emboldened by the experience. A perfunctory glance at Belgium's 2-0 win in Wales and Croatia's 1-0 success over Macedonia on Friday, suggests other parties in a group of endless possibilities will not feel the need to hide away the bunting after witnessing yesterday's goings on in Glasgow.

Scotland have not touched down at a major finals in 14 years, but Brazil in 2014 seemed a long way away in Glasgow yesterday in every sense.

Scotland must outwit Macedonia at home on Tuesday night otherwise they will need to get their work done on the road in Wales and Belgium next month. This is a group that could fall away from Scotland before the year is out.

I pointed out the other day on this blog that the much-maligned Berti Vogts, supposedly the worst thing to hit Scotland since Maggie Thatcher, was as decent a manager as any of his contemporaries in getting results from meaningful combat. That is not opinion, merely fact. Under Levein, Scotland have won three times, twice against Liechtenstein and once against Lithuania, in nine competitive games.

Scotland were short on the necessary guile to dispose of Serbia with Charlie Adam, James Morrison and Steven Naismith all indifferent performers. Adam's collection of dreadful deliveries from corners and free-kicks were painful to watch. The lack of awareness was not restricted to the middle of the park.

Alex McLeish, like Levein a former Scotland player and manager, said there were no game-changers in the visiting side, no Dragan Stojković of yesteryear to make the Scots fret. Scotland had potentially at least two in their midst in the Celtic winger James Forrest and the Blackburn Rovers forward Jordan Rhodes, a figure who wallows in goals for fun, but for some reason they were left kicking back in the technical area until it was too late. Forrest did not appear until the 69th minute, Rhodes the 81st.

Kenny Miller is the sort of striker who will chase pigeons all day, but he is not and never will be a natural goalscorer of the very highest order. If he contained such attributes, he probably would not be playing for Vancouver White Caps in the American MLS where he has scored once in seven games. He has gone there for a large suitcase of cash late in his career. Good luck to him, but he has taken a step down from representing Cardiff City last season in England's Championship.

The decision not to open with Rhodes - a 22-year-old fresh from an £8 million transfer
to Rovers from Huddersfield - for a match the Scots had to win was baffling. It was made all the more bewildering after it became apparent that Scotland required a fresh sniffer in the penalty area in a game of few openings. Levein's loyalty to Miller was laudable, but staid and ultimately misplaced.

Nobody should be mistaken: failing to win such a match was a damaging result for Scotland, the severity of which will be not be felt until we are further along the road to Rio. Or not, as the case may be.

If Scotland are going to seek out Miller, why not ask Kris Boyd what he is up to at the Portland Timbers and get him back into the reckoning. Miller should be thanked for his efforts in a Scotland shirt. He has scored 16 goals in 61 appearances, but his days of an automatic start have come and gone. He should remain in the squad, but can no longer be the lead choice to start matches.

Levein has already opted against trying to bring back Steven Fletcher, Scotland's most expensive player, to enhance his options. The decision not to make peace with Sunderland's £12 million man after he opted out of a friendly last year is certainly more damaging to Levein than the player on days like Saturday.

Fletcher was presented with two chances against Swansea City a week ago in the Premier League and scored twice on his debut with a couple of calculated finishes. He had plenty of time to tweet about The X Factor yesterday.

Kris Commons, outstanding in a Celtic jersey this season, would have added creativity to the side. It was Levein's choice to shy away from both men. Scotland are the only losers from their absence.

Absurd as it may sound when one considers the talent pool, but Fletcher and Commons may have to confront the notion that they are finished with Scotland while Levein persists.

Those tinted specs are perhaps not the best for seeing things clearly. Yet this is no time to be zany.

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