Scotland’s World Cup hopes wilted in familiar and depressing fashion last night as Gordon Strachan’s side failed to get the win needed in Slovenia when the Scots were held to a 2-2 draw.
The draw in Ljubljana and Slovakia’s 3-0 win against Malta saw the Scots finish third in their group behind Slovakia on goal difference.
It was a fittingly deflating finale to what has been an erratic campaign and thoughts immediately turned to the points dropped in the draw with Lithuania at Hampden and the loss of an injury-time equaliser against England at Hampden in June.
Victory in either game would have taken the Scots to the play-offs and the inquest into another failure is under way.
Strachan was dejected and deflated at full time and not just because he had to wait more than hour before being able to give his thoughts. The manager refused to discuss his future after the game.
He said: “I’m the last person thinking about my future right now. I have to make sure the players, staff and their families are all right.
“I’m looking after them at the moment and it’s not about me. I’m really proud to be their manager. There is disappointment but it is nothing compared to that of the players. I haven’t seen a group of players so exhausted as they were and I’ve told them they should be proud.
“I’ve been fortunate to be successful with other teams and this group is as good as anything I’ve worked with.
“They do it for nothing but their country, family and pals. They gave it a right good shot and left nothing in the dressing-room and I want to say well done.”
Leigh Griffiths’ fourth goal of the campaign looked to have Scotland on their way to finishing second in the group at half-time but a poor second-half showing from the visitors cost them dear as the country’s hopes of making it to Russia next summer slipped away.
Two goals from Roman Bezjak turned the game in Slovenia’s favour and, as the Scots chased the game in the final 15 minutes, captain Darren Fletcher wasted a glorious chance to equalise when he fired over the crossbar. With the minutes ticking away substitute Robert Snodgrass gave Scotland hope when he fired home an equaliser and the tension intensified in stoppage time when Slovenian captain Bostjan Cesar, on his 100th appearance for his country, was sent off but the Scots could not muster one final late goal to salvage their campaign.