TWO Scotland games at Easter Road. The first glowing with optimism, the second ending in despair and posing big questions about the future.

In August last year a record crowd for a qualifier watched Kim Little score five in an 8-0 rout of Cyprus. Little and Jane Ross took their international scoring records up to 59 apiece.

Five nights ago in Edinburgh, and for a third successive match, Scotland couldn’t buy a goal. The trio of 1-0 defeats consigned the players to the misery of having to watch the delayed Euro 2022 finals in England on their television sets.

That’s assuming they can bring themselves to do even that. Time is a great healer, but it also means Little and Jen Beattie, both injured in 2017, will almost certainly never play in a European Championship. A core of other senior players, including captain Rachel Corsie, are on the last laps of their stellar international careers.

So what went wrong between the two games? How did a Euro qualifying campaign which started with 16 goals scored and none conceded become so catastrophically derailed?

Prior to the first defeat, against Finland in Helsinki, the record of Shelley Kerr’s side since the World Cup was even better. Six wins from six and the Pinatar Cup in the trophy cabinet.

Four of the wins, including qualifiers against Cyprus and Albania (twice), were against much lower ranked nations – but Ukraine and old adversaries Iceland are above Finland and Portugal. A good momentum had therefore been built up when the lockdown was suddenly imposed, so the six month hiatus which followed was a contributing factor.

Kerr’s absence for the last two games, when she had to self-isolate, didn’t help either, but given the vast amount of experience in the side that shouldn’t have been a huge factor. The effort and endeavour against Finland on Tuesday couldn’t be faulted – unlike the passionless performance offered up in Lisbon.

What is glaringly obvious is that the goals dried up when they were needed most. That can happen in football, no matter how well prepared a team are. However, not enough chances were created in the first two defeats, and although they were on Tuesday the finishing didn’t meet the required standard.

In a frank interview after the game, Arsenal’s Lisa Evans said: “I think we should be getting more out of the squad in all honesty, more out of each other, [and] the coaching staff need to get more out of us.”

The previous day, referring back to the low-tempo Portugal performance, assistant head coach Andy Thomson stated it had been up to the players to ensure the game started at a high level – and if not somebody on the pitch had to take responsibility for driving them forward.

The first Easter Road game against Cyprus was preceded by a clear-the-air meeting attended by Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell. It was called to address player concerns about a debrief in their Paris hotel the day after another disastrous result – the draw against Argentina in the final World Cup group game.

Without raking over the allegations – Kerr admitted she and other coaching staff had been drinking alcohol at a meal prior to the debrief and some players were said to have been left in tears – there was a gap of over two months between that incident and the reconciliation. After the Edinburgh meeting Corsie said an apology from Kerr and her coaching staff had been well received and it was time to move forward.

That has to be taken at face value, and in any case it’s inconceivable that the players wouldn’t do their utmost to qualify for a third successive tournament. It does, however, leave a suspicion that had Scotland beaten Argentina, and then travelled to Grenoble to play Germany in a historic World Cup last-16 game, the group’s togetherness would have been stronger.

Kerr’s contract will expire when Scotland’s involvement in the Euros ends. That could have been the summer of 2022, but will now be after the remaining two group games in February.

Bizarrely, it was Kerr’s long-term predecessor who sealed Scotland’s fate. Deep in stoppage time Anna Signeul made a double substitution to run down the clock. The second, Amanda Rantanen, arrived on the pitch with the clock showing 93:31. Her international debut was marked by the ball cannoning off her face for the killer goal at 94:26.

As all of Finland erupted, a clearly conflicted Signeul sat alone collecting her thoughts.

“It was a tough evening that never could have a win ending for me,” she said.