Weath­er­ing the storm

WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS FOR ALEX McLEISH, BUT POR­TU­GAL FRIENDLY COULD BE CHANCE TO SHINE

Evening Times - - SPORT - BY MATTHEW LIND­SAY

AS Is­rael sub­jected Scot­land to re­lent­less pres­sure in the Sammy Ofer Sta­dium late on Thurs­day evening, the de­ci­sion by Alex McLeish to switch to a three-man de­fence seemed at the very best un­wise and at worst an act of sheer folly.

An­dreas Her­zog’s men, with­out a win in any game over a year, had lit­tle dif­fi­culty find­ing gaps in McLeish’s por­ous rear­guard and laid siege to the vis­i­tors’ goal for long spells.

Only Al­lan McGre­gor, who pulled off a se­ries of fine saves in the Na­tions League match to keep the mar­gin of de­feat re­spectable, and some poor fin­ish­ing pre­vented the na­tional team from suf­fer­ing a hu­mil­i­a­tion.

The num­ber of sup­port­ers who would like to see the coun­try re­vert to a con­ven­tional flat back four – as they did af­ter John Sout­tar was sent off for a sec­ond book­able of­fence in the sec­ond-half with, it has to be said, not much more suc­cess – is now grow­ing.

Yet, Scott McKenna, the Aberdeen cen­tre-half who re­placed the in­jured Char­lie Mul­grew at half-time in Haifa, re­mains con­vinced the cur­rent sys­tem can work de­spite the ev­i­dence to the con­trary and is worth per­se­ver­ing with go­ing for­ward.

McKenna has fea­tured reg­u­larly un­der McLeish – he made his de­but against Costa Rica at Ham­p­den back in March and has sub­se­quently been in­volved against Hun­gary, Peru, Mex­ico and Is­rael – and is well placed to of­fer an opin­ion on the for­ma­tion his man­ager has favoured.

The 21-year-old has part­nered no fewer than five dif­fer­ent play­ers – Grant Han­ley, Char­lie Mul­grew, Jack Hendry, John Sout­tar and Kieran Tier­ney – in the three games he has been in­volved in where a back three has been used.

He feels Scot­land will be­gin to per­form bet­ter at the back when the same trio and wing backs have had the chance to play a num­ber of games to­gether and have been able to de­velop more of an un­der­stand­ing.

“We have played it a few times now,” he said. “We went with a three in Alex McLeish’s first game in charge against Costa Rica back in March. But the prob­lem is it has al­ways been dif­fer­ent per­son­nel.

“We have been work­ing on it. We could just do with maybe hav­ing set­tled per­son­nel. Ob­vi­ously, ev­ery camp is dif­fer­ent. There might be in­juries, sus­pen­sions, what­ever. But it has worked for us well. Against Hun­gary, for ex­am­ple, it worked very well. It is just about try­ing to get a bit of con­sis­tency.”

McKenna felt that los­ing Sout­tar, who was red carded for a sec­ond book­able of­fence af­ter an hour, had made life even more dif­fi­cult for Scot­land against Is­rael.

He claimed the or­der­ing off was harsh – Red Bull Salzburg striker Mu­nas Dab­bur fell to the ground clutch­ing his face af­ter what looked to be the light­est of touches from his op­po­nent – but ex­pressed hope that his team-mate and all of the young play­ers would know bet­ter in their fu­ture out­ings at in­ter­na­tional level.

“I didn’t think it was a foul to be hon­est,” said McKenna. “The sec­ond yel­low was harsh. I was quite close to it and I didn’t think it was a foul. I thought the boy went down quite eas­ily. He made the most of it by rolling about. He gave the ref­eree a de­ci­sion to make. He deemed it to be a foul and if it is a foul

it is a yel­low card. But it is a les­son learned. No mat­ter what age you are, you will make mis­takes. On Thurs­day night it was costly for John. I am sure he will learn from it. If he does it will help us go­ing for­ward. Hope­fully it won’t hap­pen again.

“It is al­ways dif­fi­cult com­ing on. But we didn’t start the sec­ond-half well enough. They had a few chances early on and they got that goal. When we went down to 10 men it was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult.

“I think we have to learn how to see out a game when we are 1-0 up. At this level clean sheets are vi­tally im­por­tant. When we were un­der the cosh we could have been a bit braver and a bit harder to break down. At some points in the game they passed through us too eas­ily. That ul­ti­mately led to the goals.”

The Scot­land play­ers were booed by their own sup­port­ers at the end af­ter a de­feat which means there is still much work to be done in League 1 Group C be­fore a Euro 2020 play-off place can be se­cured.

The de­fender can un­der­stand their anger and frus­tra­tion of the Tar­tan Army and as­sured them and that he and ev­ery one of his team mates feels ex­actly the same.

“We are bit­terly dis­ap­pointed as well,” he said. “We wanted to ap­plaud them at the end for the ef­fort they had gone to in or­der to go over to Is­rael. We should have per­formed bet­ter and we un­der­stood why they weren’t happy.

“But it’s not as if we walked out of the sta­dium on Thurs­day night and for­got about it. We were all hurt­ing as well. Hope­fully in the next games we will put it right. If we win our Na­tions League matches next month this is all for­got­ten about.”

Young de­fender Harry Sout­tar was or­dered off dur­ing Thurs­day night’s de­feat af­ter two book­able of­fences

Scott McKenna ar­rives back at Glas­gow Air­port yes­ter­day af­ter a fruit­less trip to Haifa

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