SLOVAKIA 3 SCOTLAND 0
DEPRESSING doesn’t even come close to describing this latest World Cup debacle from Scotland in Trnava tonight.
Gordon Strachan’s misfits were destroyed by an average team that hadn’t scored a goal in over seven hours of football until this landslide against pathetic opponents.
Already any thoughts of qualifying for the Finals in Russia in 2018 are in jeopardy – after only three games where five points have been carelessly thrown away.
If the Tartan Army thought their heroes were dismal in the last-gasp 1-1 draw with the minnows of Lithuania at Hampden on Saturday, then they witnessed a performance this evening that was several degrees below awful.
Captain Darren Fletcher, winning his 76th cap, lacked inspiration and creativity in midfield and it was no surprise to anyone that he was substituted in the 64th minute. In fact, Strachan, with the pressure mounting, could have hauled off a whole posse of players at that stage.
Barry Bannan gave the ball away continually, Matt Ritchie was anonymous, James McArthur chased shadows and Steven Fletcher, selected ahead of Leigh Griffiths, was as sharp as a sausage.
Grant Hanley and Russell Martin in central defence are the most comical double-act since Morecambe and Wise.
It was a dreadful night for Scotland and Strachan, who suffered a 5-0 humiliation in the same country in his first competitive game as Celtic manager when the team were walloped 5-0 by Artmedia Bratislava in 2005.
Scotland never got above one-paced yet they had a reasonable chance to open the scoring in the 12th minute when Robert Snodgrass slung over a left-wing cross and Steven Fletcher’s woeful header looked closer to the corner flag than the goal.
Six minutes later, the Scots were reeling as the Slovaks, who lost their two opening ties to England and Slovenia, scored their first World Cup goal of the campaign.
Swedish referee Martin Strombergsson amazingly waved played on when Jan Durica clattered into Steven Fletcher with a challenge more suited to a game played with the oval ball.
The home team raced up the pitch, Jan Holubek slung over a cross from the left, Marek Hamsik peeled off at the back post to send in a header, David Marshall acrobatically pawed it away, but unfortunately the ball fell at the feet of the unmarked Robert Mak who volleyed home the gift.
Five minutes from the interval, Bannan was again careless in possession and ex-Celtic shotstopper Marshall was required to make a full-length save from Mak’s angled drive.
It was all over in the 56th minute when the Slovaks scored a spectacularly simply second goal. A break down the left saw Callum Paterson taken out of play and the ball was played in for Mak to walk past a feeble challenge from Martin and plonk the ball low past the helpless Marshall at his right-hand post.
It took Strachan until the 64th minute to believe it might be a good idea to introduced a guy who scored 40 goals last season when he put on Griffiths and Ikechi Anya to replace the pedestrian Darren Fletcher and Ritchie.
Four minutes later, the Scots were three goals adrift and heading for oblivion. A routine left-wing corner-kick was sent swirling into the box and Adam Nemec simply got in front of the immobile Hanley to thump a header low past Marshall to his left.
Strachan’s reply was to put on Hibs midfielder John McGinn for his second cap and withdraw the appalling Steven Fletcher.
With 12 minutes to go, Griffiths showed a bit of fire and fight when he got clear, but his left-foot shot flashed just wide of the keeper’s left-hand post and a couple of minutes later the Hoops hitman zipped in another that was beaten away.