It’s never straightforward being Scottish, is it?
Just as we started to believe our long World Cup drought might be coming to an end, Steve Clarke‘s team show up with one of their meekest performances in years and it all comes crashing down.
It’s a story we’ve all heard a million times before and it doesn’t get any easier to stomach.
Ukraine were well worth their 3-1 victory and it could – should – have been much worse.
After a night like that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong because there were so many contributing factors to a dreary, crushing defeat in front of a raucous Hampden crowd that has come to expect better in the journey under Clarke.
Knee-jerk reactions are no use while we’re still raw after a painful defeat and the prospect of three more international games in the next fortnight seem more like a burden than something to look forward to.
But now we’ve had a good night’s kip, Record Sport have taken a look at seven things that went wrong on Wednesday evening.
From the opening minutes Clarke cut an unusually restless figure on the touchline.
Much like the rest of us, he sensed something wasn’t going to plan as Ukraine continually cut through our midfield – if it could be called that – like a hot knife through butter.
The entire first half was lambs to the slaughter stuff as Callum McGregor and Billy Gilmour were left exposed and overpowered by the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko and the sublime Ruslan Malinovskyi.
That was largely because of the tweaked tactical system that saw Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams deployed as a straight front two rather than the balanced 3-4-3 that has worked for us so well in recent months.
Neither forward was asked to do much defensive work and that left John McGinn stranded as a helpless link between an overworked sitting two and an isolated strike-force.
And by the time Clarke finally changed it by bringing on Ryan Christie for Dykes at half-time, much of the damage had already been done.
Why Clarke opted to play 45 minutes with such a boldly optimistic set-up leaves much to be explained. It’s not what we’re good at and it prevented us from playing the incisive counter-attacking football that’s got us to where we are.
A lesson for the manager from which he must learn soon.
Andy not at it
On nights like last night, you need your top players to step up to the plate and carry you over the line.
And while the effort was there from skipper Andy Robertson, the execution was nowhere near it.
He’s long been criticised for failing to bring his Liverpool form to the international scene and while those detractions are often unfair, performances like that don’t help his case.
Some burnout was evident and perhaps inevitable – after all it was his 118th game since the beginning of last season.
But there will be a section of the Tartan Army who feel the optics weren’t great after he was spotted unwinding with a beer during Liverpool’s open top bus parade.
And he might have some work to do to win them back over in the internationals coming up – not that he’ll shy away from that.
Lost without Tierney
What certainly didn’t help Robertson was the absence of his usual partner in crime.
With Liam Cooper stepping in for Kieran Tierney on the left of the back three, Robertson’s rhythm looked visibly thrown.
He’s become accustomed to teaming up with the Arsenal man, trading runs forward and keeping the opposition guessing where the attack will come from.
But the two-pronged attack was reduced to a blunt prod in this case with Robertson unable to provide that unpredictability and dynamism by himself.
By the time Clarke realised the system wasn’t working without Tierney and switched to a back four, it was too little, too late.
It really is a concern how much we drop off when he isn’t in the team and Clarke must soon come up with a plan B.
Shades of the Euros
Cast your mind back to Euro 2020 when Tierney’s absence and the resulting flat display got us off to a shocking start against the Czech Republic.
Hell, we even saw our keeper chipped for a costly goal again – although this time it wasn’t quite a screamer from the halfway line.
But there were also parallels from the dreary Croatia defeat that ultimately cost us our place at the tournament.
Where Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic ran the midfield show in that one, this time it was Zinchenko and Malinovskyi to a worryingly similar outcome.
We’ve come on since the Euros and last night’s defeat was only our second in the ten games since.
But a year on, the same issues are still there – and still costing us in the big games.
Is Hickey ready?
He’s come off the back of a magnificent season with Bologna and few had any complaints when he was named in the starting lineup.
But Aaron Hickey looked like a fish out of water on the right hand side and it became abundantly clear that he was ways to go at international level.
Still only 19, he’s a young man with plenty of learning to do. And providing he stays fit, he’s going to rack up the caps as a starter for Scotland at some stage.
Just not yet.
When is Nathan Patterson back from injury again?
Drawing a blank
Two out and out strikers on from the start and neither could hit a barn door with a baseball bat.
And even the usually-prolific John McGinn missed a sitter.
Scotland were miles off it in all areas and the game would have been out of sight by half-time if it wasn’t for Craig Gordon.
Despite that though we had our chances and should have brought the game level at 2-1.
When you’re not playing well, you have to at least take your chances when they come along. We didn’t, and it cost us.
Same old Scotland
It’s been a problem for nearly 30 years now.
And while the Clarke era has seen us take significant strides towards eradicating the fragile mentality that has cost us a place at so many major tournaments, apparently it’s still there.
Ukraine were up for it last night and we simply were not. Too nervous, too tentative and too shaken by the occasion to have stood any chance.
The mitigating circumstances for Ukraine were obvious but while many had predicted it would impact them negatively, it had the opposite effect as Oleksandr Petrakov’s side showed up for the fight and did their country proud.
As for Scotland? We were given a perilous reminder of how things were just a couple of years ago.
And we can only hope it’s no more than another speedbump on the road back to where we want to be.