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36 of 046

Scotland 0 Serbia 0

From ROBERT GRIEVE at Hampden

IT’S when managers don’t change the team.

That’s when supporters ask whether it’s time for the team to change the manager.

Craig Levein paced the Hampden technical area thinking long and hard about which substitutions to make in this vital World Cup qualifier. But the second half passed by in front of his eyes.

And this morning the Tartan Army sit at home depressed, fearing another qualification campaign has already disappeared along with it.

Jordan Rhodes was the man the home fans wanted to see in Levein’s line-up.

Almost 50,000 impatient Scots chanted his name with the game stretched and there to be won with still half an hour left to play.

Work-horse Kenny Miller had run himself into the ground after another back-breaking shift in dark blue.

But Celtic’s James Forrest was the change Levein opted to make in the 68th minute when he replaced worker Robert Snodgrass wide on the right.

Rhodes — along with QPR’s Jamie Mackie — was only given the final ten minutes to make an impact from the bench.

Too little, too late, it proved.

Levein even admitted himself after the final whistle that he wished he could turn back the hands of time and make all three alterations earlier.

But this match is now GONE.

Question now is whether this bid for Brazil can still yet be achieved.

The gaffer’s satnav was meant to take us straight there. But Scotland must now take an alternative route on the Road to Rio as his side just couldn’t get through the Serbian blockade.

Kenny Miller, Stevie Naismith and Forrest all had second-half chances to put us in the driving seat.

But our Group A rivals held firm.

Make no mistake, the draw is no disaster. It could even have been a lot worse. Serbia offered enough to prove they’re a decent outfit capable of winning points against any of our other Group A rivals.

But, on chances created, this is two points dropped rather than one point gained.

Levein couldn’t have asked for any more from his players in terms of effort.

But it was the lack of quality from some of his key men that ultimately was the difference between a wonderful win and a disappointing draw.

Naismith had his most frustrating game in a Scotland shirt with next to nothing going right for the Everton man no matter how hard he tried. And he did.

The game’s best chance fell to him midway through the second half but he clipped his shot wide when the stadium held its breath hoping he’d score.

Miller had an opportunity with a header with Forrest almost snatching a stoppage-time winner.

And, had we nicked it, it would have been onwards and upwards ahead of Tuesday night’s clash with Macedonia.

As things stand now that’s a must-win game like never before. No matter what.

Heads were bowed as Scotland’s shattered stars left the pitch in frustration. But Levein and his back-room men will lift the group and be ready to go again. He has to.

Levein’s critics — and there are many — argue there hasn’t been enough progress since he took charge two years ago.

Certainly not as much as he claims.

But, make no mistake about it, the players still have his back. They’ll go all-out in the next game to get this campaign back on track.

He will almost certainly stick with his favoured 4-5-1 system — regardless of how much the foot soldiers in the stands want to see two men leading his line.

Levein’s men did enough to win the game, of that there is no doubt.

The Scots could have been ahead in the first half but, equally, they could have fallen behind.

The Serbs had the majority of possession, without a barrage of scoring opportunities to go along with it, while the attacks on their goal only really provided half-chances at best.

Allan McGregor had to act lively at the other end to keep out a clever curling free-kick from Manchester City’s Aleksander Kolorov low down at the near post.

That came after Christophe Berra had hauled back Filip Duricic on the edge of the penalty box, pulling his jersey as the Serb midfielder turned him with ease.

Berra was lucky, Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson could easily have pointed to the spot. Worse still, Scotland could — and probably should — have been reduced to ten men.

From the McGregor stop Naismith sprinted up the middle of the pitch looking for a quick breakaway, catching defender Srdan Mijailovic with a flying elbow.

It looked deliberate.

The off-the-ball incident was missed by all the match officials but could lead to trouble for the forward if TV evidence is taken into consideration by the authorities.

Alan Hutton also careered into Milos Ninkovic with a high, two-footed challenge which left the visiting midfielder upended and writhing in agony. On another day Hutton might not have been let off the hook like he was.

It was after the break that Scotland looked more the part.

Miller had two half-chances — the keeper blocking one with the striker missing his header at the other — before the best opportunity of them all.

Naismith was slid through by Gary Caldwell and drew the keeper, but clipped his effort wide of the post.

In the final seconds both sides had chances to nick it. At one end Scotland keeper McGregor had to be at his best to turn away an effort from Dusan Tadic.

Then, in stoppage time, Forrest was denied by goalie Vladimir Stojkovic as the match ended without a goal.


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