TWO World Cup ties played, two points gathered. Draw your own conclusions.
Craig Levein will insist Scotland’s hopes of reaching Brazil in 2014 haven’t been crushed but others, the long-suffering Tartan Army, have lost belief.
They jeered Levein and his players at the final whistle because they’d expected so much more. Their confidence in the squad was tested in Saturday’s draw with Serbia but last night it sounded as though they’d had enough.
Only a couple of steps along the road to Rio and already Scotland are cut adrift of Serbia, Croatia and Belgium.
They’re all on four points after two games and although the Scots are only two points behind the gap, if we are being honest, is much wider than that.
Levein made three changes from Saturday – Charlie Adam, Steven Naismith, and Robert Snodgrass were replaced by Shaun Maloney, James Forrest and Jamie Mackie – but nothing much changed.
Scotland were still hesitant and seemed to lack belief.
Perhaps we’d all fallen into the trap of believing they are better than they are but last night we saw that Macedonia, who are about 50 places lower than us in FIFA’s rankings, are actually better.
At least they were in this game.
And Goran Pandev? He strode about Hampden with a style and grace no Scot could match. He was imperious and the more he made his side play the more Scotland retreated into themselves.
It was painful to watch us but wonderful to look at him. If only we had someone who could dominate a game the way he did. If only we could manufacture more opportunities. If only we could score more goals.
If only... if only we had players capable of giving our support the success they crave and deserve. But the harsh truth is we don’t and although Levein will beg to differ you cannot deny what we have seen over these two matches.
Scotland lack fluency, panache, and maybe even confidence.
There are eight games left in Group A and 24 points to be won but does anyone believe we’ll harvest enough of them?
We just don’t have it and the sooner we snap back to reality the better.
Serbia and Macedonia came to Hampden and demonstrated the arts of passing and moving and as things stand Scotland are no further forward than we were before Levein, who has beaten only Liechtenstein and Lithuania in the competitive arena, took over.
Now we have to go to Wales and then Belgium next month and pick up points.
After last night’s crushing 6-1 defeat by the Serbs the Welsh are on their knees but we are staggering.
The Scotland players who had stood tall and proud when they emerged from the tunnel last night to be greeted by the face of Andy Murray on Hampden’s big screens, slumped off at full time.
Before kick-off the fans had belted out ‘there’s only one Andy Murray,’ while hoping the players in Dark Blue would also raise the bar to their game. Murray had been fantastic at Flushing Meadows and now it was Scotland’s chance to be magnificent in Mount Florida.
But it was Macedonia who looked inspired as they began carving avenues through Scotland’s rearguard.
Alan Hutton, who was supposed to be charging down the right, was being drawn back along with his team-mates and they conceded two corners. The first was defended but the second, in 11 minutes, silenced Hampden.
The ball was played short, Scotland’s defenders froze, but Pandev didn’t. He surged forward on the left and his delivery was perfect for Nikolce Noveski.
Nikolche Noveski puts Macedonia ahead
He looked offside but neither the Russian ref, Sergey Karasev, nor his assistant spotted that and the midfield player made the most of his good fortune.
Scotland were a goal down and the biggest crime was not that the ref had failed to stop play but that seven Scotland defenders were caught out at the corner and five when Noveski pounced.
The songs of praise for Murray turned to boos for Levein’s players, who were struggling to subdue their opponents.
Pandev, in particular, was a real threat. It was as though the SFA had granted Macedonia’s captain the freedom of Hampden. He was everywhere, dashing and probing and unnerving Scotland’s defence almost at will.
He was tormenting the home side. He would twist one way and turn another and at one point he left two defenders trailing before sticking a pass through to Mirko Ivanovski before Allan McGregor made an excellent save.
It was half an hour before Scotland won their first corner, which was a true reflection on how this tie had opened.
The Macedonians were passing and moving better than Scotland. Actually, they were streets ahead and the crowd was growing increasingly restless.
They needed a sign, a flowing attack, a rasping shot. Anything, something to make them believe again and Levein was at the edge of the technical area trying to bring some cohesion to his side.
Some intelligence and subtlety would have helped, too, but Gary Caldwell decided some basics were required to deal with Pandev. The Wigan defender clattered into the Napoli player, who was left nursing a sore head.
But he got up, as did Hutton after he’d been fouled by Ferhan Hasani, who had just taken over from the injured Ivan Trchkovski. Then, three minutes from the break, the encouragement the fans craved was delivered by Miller.
Forrest was involved then James Morrison, who threaded a terrific pass through to Jamie Mackie with the QPR man unselfishly squaring for Miller to finish off. Scotland had been poor but they were level. Hope was alive.
Kenny Miller grabbed an equaliser for Scotland
But to revive the World Cup dream Scotland had to believe in themselves much more than they’d shown in that dismal first half. Pandev had to be subdued, Ivanovski, too, and Vanche Shikov, at the heart of Macedonia’s defence, had to be worked.
The tempo had to be increased and that’s what the Scots were doing now while trying to bring Maloney, Forrest and Mackie into the game.
Nikola Grigorov and Pandev were booked for moaning about a free kick against them but the Macedonians were soon back on the front foot pressing and testing for openings.
Clearly they believed they could win this match and Andy Webster and Paul Dixon had to combine to block Muhamed Demiri. Then, seconds later, Hasani’s shot battered McGregor’s left-hand post.
Time for change and much to the disgust of the fans Levein sent on Charlie Adam for Miller. The crowd immediately chanted for Jordan Rhodes as Adam was booked for sliding into Pandev.
The Tartan Army was bemused but in 65 minutes they got something to cheer when Rhodes was sent on for Morrison. So much now rested on the shoulders of the young Blackburn striker and within minutes he had a golden opportunity.
Adam escaped deep on Scotland’s right and sent in a low near-post cross.
Rhodes read Adam’s intentions and threw himself at the ball making good connection but his header flew wide.
At the other end Pandev threaded a great ball through to Ivanovski who looked certain to score but again McGregor raced from his line and made another terrific save.
Craig Levein looks on
Rhodes then had another chance when Forrest swung the ball from right to the far post but Daniel Georgievski managed to do enough to put the striker off.
Scotland were pushing hard now and Naismith was sent on for Mackie as Levein went for broke.
Macedonia were beginning to creak a bit at the back and their manager, Cedomir Janevski, was urging his players to keep calm because he knew that a point was a good return, although in the end Scotland were the team that was fortunate to share the spoils.
They were better in the second half but still less than convincing.
Two points from two home games leaves us with an awful lot to do if we are to catch up on the road to Brazil.
We’re already limping while others are striding out. If only Andy Murray had stuck in at football.
Man by man
Compiled by Gary Ralston
Allan McGregor 8
Took up from where he left off against Serbia. Helpless at Noveski’s opener but kept the Scots in the game with crucial stops in each half.
Alan Hutton 6
Rarely on the front foot early on and lacked conviction but became a danger down the right with clever runs from Forrest creating space.
Andy Webster 6
The darting runs of Mirko Ivanovski threatened to leave him flat-footed and the speed of the Macedonian frontman was always a challenge.
Christophe Berra 6
Had to scramble for defensive cover at times and although he and Webster creaked on occasions, McGregor proved a valiant last line of defence.
Paul Dixon 6
Much less assured than his Man of the Match performance against the Serbs. He seemed to focus on defence leaving us short of a left-wing raider.
Gary Caldwell 6
Lost a little discipline early on as he chased forward leaving danger man Pandev to lace passes and exploit the space between midfield and attack.
Shaun Maloney 5
Struggled to be a creative force in the centre of midfield as the Scots toiled to break down the visitors. Moved out to left but still found it tough.
James Morrison 5
Another unconvincing performance. Pass for the equaliser was crucial but it was one of few occasions he found a way through. Hooked in second half.
Jamie Mackie 5
Never at ease on the left as he failed to get beyond the ball or link with Morrison or Miller to make the space from which he would have prospered.
Kenny Miller 5
Played better at the weekend and took pelters. His poaching instincts proved vital for equaliser, but he couldn’t make the ball stick.
James Forrest 7
Not always well served with possession, especially in the first half, but he didn’t half work hard off the ball in a bid to become involved.
Charlie Adam 4
Still groans about set-piece delivery but he kept Scotland on front foot.
Jordan Rhodes 4
Connected with deliveries at either post and added a physical dimension.
Steven Naismith 2
On for Mackie and added further to the urgency but winner still elusive.
Subs not used: Marshall, Hanley, Snodgrass, Cowie, Dorrans, McCormack, Foster, Phillips, Samson.
FYR Macedonia: Bogatinov, Georgievski, Sikov, Noveski, Popov, Ibraimi (Tasevski 89), Gligorov
(Sumulikoski 70), Demiri, Trickovski (Hasani 37), Pandev, Ivanovski. Subs not used: Pacovski, Mojsov, Grncarov, Ristic, Lazevski, Georgiev, Naumovski.
Referee: Sergei Karasev (Russia).