Craig Levein last week reinforced his reputation as a reactionary manager. In the unfamiliar position of being ahead the Scotland boss elected to adopt the “wait and see” approach before making second-half changes, instead of choosing to be pro-active and finish the game off.
With Scotland leading 1-0, their attacking players tiring and Wales enjoying a lot of possession, the game was crying out for a substitution. The introduction of James Forrest, for example, could have helped to pin Wales back, or, at least, make them wary of his danger on the counter attack and therefore less willing to commit bodies forward. Forrest played a crucial second-half role in Moscow recently for Celtic but Levein overlooked him entirely.
Levein eventually made his changes (with the exception of the half-time swapping of Adam for Brown, which was presumably due to Brown’s chronic hip problem) after Wales had equalised, throwing on Mackie and Miller in place of Commons and Morrison. It was very much a case of too little too late for the Scots, and they were the wrong changes in any case, yet very symptomatic of Levein’s approach. Leaving it too late and then throwing on strikers in a desperate rescue mission has become his speciality.
When the supply line to the striker (or strikers) has dried up, it doesn’t necessarily make sense simply to add more strikers into the mix; it just leaves the team with more isolated figures high up the park and thus also brings an imbalance to the side.
Kris Commons, who had started the match brightly, faded badly in the second half and had been almost invisible for about 20 minutes prior to his withdrawal. It was in this period that Scotland lost the match. By not seeking to build on a position of strength Scotland let Wales back into the game and the home side were very much in the ascendancy before and after Bale’s penalty.
The situation smacked of a negative and under-confident manager who was clueless as to how to act when in an advantageous position. Earlier substitutions could have closed the game out but by waiting Scotland’s substitutions were ultimately reactionary and ineffective.
Of course, though, the blame for this loss does not rest solely on Levein’s shoulders. Gareth Bale cheating to win a penalty is hard to legislate for, as is Charlie Adam switching off and inviting Bale to take a shot – which the Welshman smashed into the top corner for his and his country’s second. Perhaps Adam’s laziness and lack of concentration here undermined the decision to bring him on ahead of Wigan’s James McArthur.
There was also the controversy over Scotland’s disallowed goal but it did appear that it was correctly ruled out, even if for the wrong reason; sometimes two wrongs do make a right.
A result like Friday’s alone is, naturally, not worthy of prompting discussion about a manager’s future but Friday’s result isn’t alone; it was just another in a long line of disappointments. Even before the game in Cardiff many felt that Levein was on borrowed time and question marks surrounded the decision to keep him in place as national boss going into the current campaign. Three games and just two points later Levein hadn’t done himself any favours. Last night’s disappointing, but expected, defeat in Belgium makes that two points from four games and leaves Scotland propping up the group. Levein’s own position appears precarious and his future uncertain.
The SFA should have been pro-active and replaced Levein before he had a chance to throw away Scotland’s hopes of reaching Brazil in 2014, but then it should be of no surprise that a reactionary federation has stuck by a reactionary manager…and for too long.