Back to drawing board as Scots humbled in Haifa
Scotland boss Alex McLeish has to come up with some answers after his side’s embarrassing defeat to Israel (pic: SNS Group)
Israel 2 Scotland 1
Sammy Ofer Stadium
The crescendo of boos from the Tartan Army which greeted the Scotland players at the end of the game in Haifa said it all.
The supporters have had to endure their fair share of painful performances in the past but the display against Israel was a new low.
Outfought, out-thought and outplayed by a team ranked 94th in the world, the Scots were lucky to escape with just a one-goal defeat against a team which prior to the match had won just one home game, against Liechtenstein, in two years.
Had it not been for Allan McGregor in goal, the Scots could easily have been on the receiving end of an even more humiliating defeat, the Rangers keeper producing numerous saves to deny the home side.
It’s back to the drawing board for boss Alex McLeish after the Haifa horror show, and any goodwill he may have earned from the fans with the win over Albania in the opening group fixture will have evaporated after this display.
Israel had gone into the match on the back of four successive home defeats yet thoroughly merited their shock victory, their first-ever win over Scotland.
Despite being given the perfect start through Charlie Mulgrew’s first-half penalty, the 10-man Scots were soundly beaten, John Souttar having been dismissed in the second half for a second bookable offence.
McLeish’s tactics will come under scrutiny, his preferred 3-5-2 formation meaning there was no place in the starting line-up for the in-form Celtic winger James Forrest.
The players seemed to struggle to get to grips with what was required of them and had no answer to the questions being posed by the Israelis, their situation not helped by the non-appearance after the break of the injured Mulgrew.
Dor Peretz levelled things seven minutes after the restart and after Souttar’s dismissal in the 61st minute, Kieran Tierney deflected a cross into his own net 15 minutes from time to hand the hosts an advantage they never looked like surrendering.
The result – Scotland’s first defeat in a competitive match since November 2016 – means all nations in Group C1 are locked on three points, with Scotland’s superior goal difference meaning they remain top ahead of facing Albania in Shkoder next month.
Celtic full-back Tierney was played at centre-half to accommodate Andy Robertson on the left-hand side of a three-man back line but never looked like his normal assured self.
The conundrum of how best to utilise Tierney and Robertson, the country’s two best left-backs, in the same team will be one of the many questions McLeish has to find answers to.
Whatever he needs to fix, he needs to do it quickly with Portugal next up for a friendly at Hampden Park on Sunday.
Given the standard of opposition in the group, Scotland should still qualify, but only if the Israel debacle serves as a wake-up call.
The Scots complete the group with the trip to Albania on 17 November with the return against Israel at Hampden three days later.
“We have to pick it up, simple as that,” he said. “That’s what it’s like in football you go on to the next one. We are obviously going to get a bit of stick for this. That’s what I expect from Scottish people.
“It’s up to us to bounce back. Whatever it takes. I will look to win both games, but whatever it takes.
“The fans want to win. I’m right behind the fans. Obviously they give the players energy if they support them and I urge the fans to support the players.”
Scotland: McGregor, Souttar, Mulgrew (McKenna, 45), Tierney, O’Donnell, McGinn, McDonald, Robertson, Russell (Forrest, 67), McGregor, Naismith (McBurnie, 76).
Goals: Israel – Peretz (52), Tierney (og, 75); Scotland – (Mulgrew, pen, 25)