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Israel embarrassment leaves Eck in shoogly peg territory

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hislopsoffsideagain

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The natural instinct of the football fan is of course knee-jerk reactivity. A big win? Everyone's a genius. An embarrassing defeat? Sack the manager, drop everyone and play the youth team.

So when my gut feeling after a result is as black and white as that, I try to repress it. Resist the urge to put out a Twitter call for heads on a plate, I tell myself. Sleep on it, then re-evaluate the situation the next day.

But after a performance like Scotland's in Tel Aviv, the lust for bloodshed has barely weakened after a good night's kip.

One hopes that Alex McLeish gave Allan McGregor a big hug after the game, because the Rangers goalkeeper made a string of saves to keep the score down. That was the sort of awful performance that can get a manager sacked, but luckily for McLeish the 2-1 result doesn't look dreadful on paper. Make no mistake, there are plenty of parallel universes out there where Israel scored five or six and he got his jotters before boarding the plane home. It's safe to say there are none in which Scotland kept a clean sheet and returned with three points.

Scotland were an absolute shambles in every area of the pitch, but nowhere more so than in defence. McLeish has hung his hat on playing a back three, sticking with it through friendly defeat after friendly defeat, but it is clear that practice has not made perfect. In fact he is committing the cardinal sin of management - making the team far less than the sum of their parts. Out of the back five that started (and Scott McKenna who came on at half-time), only John Souttar has much experience playing in a back three and even he doesn't do so every week.

If it is all about shoehorning both Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney into the team (I'm not convinced it is, as I think Tierney certainly has the tools to play centre-back) then as Robertson himself stated post-match they are both being played out of position and struggling because of that. Robertson and fellow full-back Stephen O'Donnell both look completely uncertain of their positioning, with both constantly caught too high up the pitch or sitting far too deep, unable to find a happy medium.

At least Robertson's pace and ability often got him out of trouble; O'Donnell had the sort of night that could lead to him being taken somewhere safe where he can be researched by 'top men'. (This may be the first and last time I try to make a Raiders Of The Lost Ark joke in a blog)

Further up the pitch there is plenty of reason for concern too. The 3-5-2 system pretty much makes it impossible to fit two of the country's most on-form players, Ryan Fraser and James Forrest, into the lineup as there is no obvious place for a wide forward. It is also far from the best way to utilize the country's best striker by miles, Leigh Griffiths.

Talking of Griffiths, his decision to pull out of the squad was on the face of it quite troubling, and I bet I wasn't the only person who had a few cynical thoughts when Fraser, hung out to dry as a left wing-back in the friendly against Belgium last month, withdrew too. Given that James MacArthur and Robert Snodgrass have made the curious decision to step back from international football, one worries this is a sign of players railing against the manager.

For all his faults, Gordon Strachan was remarkably good at keeping the players onside even when they weren't playing. The number of call-offs at the moment feels reminiscent of the Burley and Levein eras. Those really, really weren't good eras.

The big factor in Big Eck's favour right now is that Scotland are actually still top of their Nations League group, and will surely win it with a win and a draw from the final two games. And given that those games are next month there is no way the plug will be pulled on him right now.

The flipside is that failure in those matches really does put him in an untenable position. With Scotland certain to be seeded third or lower for the European Championship qualifiers, there is a decent chance they might be drawn in a group where second place would be extremely difficult to achieve. Therefore they need the option of qualifying via the Nations League. Besides, whilst Albania and Israel are no mugs, failing to finish top of a group with those two, with the squad currently available to him, would be catastrophic.

Moreover, McLeish has no capital at all with the Tartan Army. They have long memories and remember all to well how he used the Scotland job the first time round to rebuild his reputation and then jumped ship for Birmingham City at the first opportunity. And of course he wasn't the first choice to replace Strachan, only getting the post after Stewart Regan botched the pursuit of Michael O'Neill; McLeish's appointment stank of panic back then and time has only reinforced that view.

Of course, he wasn't appointed under the watch of current Chief Executive Ian Maxwell, who could well use that as his pretext to make a change in the winter if next month proves as farcical as last night. If McLeish isn't in 'shoogly peg' territory already, then he should be.


Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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