HAVING lost 3-0 to Kazakhstan away in their opening Group I qualifier back in March, Scotland needed a big result last night to breathe life into their bid to reach the Euro 2020 finals next summer.

The game against World Cup quarter-finalists Russia was the perfect opportunity to reignite their campaign. But it was not to be. They crashed to their first defeat in a competitive fixture at Hampden in four long years.

So what went wrong for Steve Clarke’s men? And where does this result leave them going forward?


Arithmetically, the national team can still finish runners-up in their section and progress. But they will need to produce a major upset against Belgium in Glasgow on Monday night or Russia in Moscow next month to do so. On the evidence of this dispiriting 90 minutes, there is little prospect of either happening.

The gulf in standard with Stanislav Cherchesov’s side was considerable. The margin of victory could have been far greater. The away team hit the crossbar and the post and David Marshall pulled off some outstanding reaction saves, not least from Yuri Zhirkov in the second-half. Charlie Mulgrew, too, cleared off his own line with three minutes remaining.

Clarke’s charges, who took the lead through John McGinn early on half before allowing Artem Dzyuba to level and then scoring an own goal, have a play-off place to fall back on if they come up short. It looks as if they will need it. They are now six points adrift of second spot with five matches remaining.


The Liverpool left back was at fault for the late goal that Scotland conceded against Cyprus in their last match at Hampden back in June and he was partially to blame for the first-half strike that Russia netted last night.

It is perhaps harsh to chastise the Champions League winner for the strike that Dzyuba bagged five minutes before half-time as he had little time to react when Aleksandr Golovin played the ball into his path. But he failed to react and inadvertently played the ball straight into the path of the striker.

There can be no doubting the former Queen’s Park, Dundee United and Hull City player’s quality going forward. But defensively, as has been seen twice in his last two outings for his country, he is still prone to an occasional error. There is definite room for improvement in that department.


Before kick-off, there was uncertainty over who would play alongside Callum McGregor and Scott McTominay in midfield. Would Ryan Christie, who has scored eight goals for Celtic so far this season, get the nod? Or would McGinn, now plying his trade with Aston Villa in the Premier League, be preferred. The latter edged it.

McGinn has long been seen as the natural successor to Scott Brown in the Scotland side. He has same tireless work rate and physical presence. But his performances for the national team before last night had left much to be desired. He had struggled to reproduce his scintillating club form for his country.

But “Meatball” was pretty tasty and more than justified his selection. He was gifted the opening goal in the 10th minute when Russia goalkeeper Guilherme fumbled at Ryan Fraser cross from the left to his feet. That said, he still showed good composure to control it with his left foot and rifle it into the net.

It was McGinn’s first goal for Scotland and he savoured the moment. He was decent enough after that until he was replaced by Christie shortly after his team had fallen 2-1 behind.


Despite captaining a Leeds United team which has performed consistently well in the Championship in England in the past couple of seasons, Liam Cooper had never been given his chance by his adopted homeland before last night. It is strange given the dearth of options at centre half.

Cooper got sucked out of position at the Dzyuba goal and gave Golovin time and space in the Scotland penalty box before the first goal. He also allowed Golovin to get in behind him and deliver the killer pass at the second.

Having Charlie Mulgrew, whose vast experience and football intelligence proved invaluable as the home team were put under sustained pressure by the visitors, alongside him helped him through the match no end. But it was a tough introduction to the international game.


Oli McBurnie may have become Scotland’s most expensive player for a few days this summer when Sheffield United signed him for £20 million from Swansea City. He might have opened his account in the Premier League down south against Leicester City last month. But the Tartan Army remain to be convinced.

The 23-year-old has still not scored in eight internationals. He couldn’t be faulted for effort once again last night. He looked isolated up front by himself for much of the match. But he still failed to convince. Could Matt Phillips be worth a try in attack?