Leading at half-time through a Charlie Mulgrew penalty the second half of this depressing defeat was a grim old watch. A backs to the wall display best viewed through the cracks of the fingers, the excellence of goalkeeper Allan McGregor was the difference between mere defeat and embarassment.
A travelling band of 2000 Tartan Army foot soldiers made their feelings known at the final whistle, catcalls and boos filling the Haifa air. Scotland’s players could count themselves lucky they were unarmed.
Hearts striker Steven Naismith is barged over in the box to win his side a first-half penalty
With the scores at 1-1, John Souttar received a second booking to put his side under pressure
ISRAEL: Harush, Ben Harush, Tibi, Yeini, Dasa, D. Peretz, Natcho, Kayal, Twatha, Sahar, Dabbur.
Substitutes: Haimov, Kannadli, Glazer, Habashi, Tzedek, Hemed, Einbinder, Micha, Atar, Awwad, Seba, Bitton.
Goals: Peretz 52, Tierney (og) 74
SCOTLAND: McGregor; Souttar, Mulgrew, Tierney; O’Donnell, McGinn, McDonald, McGregor, Robertson; Russell, Naismith
Substitutes: Gordon, McLaughlin Forrest, Hendry, McKenna, Shinnie, Armstrong, McBurnie.
Goals: Mulgrew 24
Referee: Daniel Stefanski (Poland)
‘The fans want to win,’ acknowledged McLeish. ‘I’m right behind the fans.
‘Obviously they give the players energy if they support them – and I urge the fans to support the players.’
Reduced to 10 men after 66 minutes by two soft yellow cards for Hearts defender John Souttar, a hideous sliced own goal from Kieran Tierney contrived to make a team ranked 94th in the FIFA world rankings resemble Brazil while raising further questions of the square pegs in round holes selection policy employed by the manager after a fifth defeat in seven games.
Worryingly, his team were shapeless and outplayed by an Israeli team with a recent record of one win in two years. That against the footballing minnows of Lichtenstein.
For Scotland Sunday’s home friendly with an extravagantly talented Portugal side suddenly has all the appeal of a one-way ticket to Damascus.
The platform was there to add to last month’s opening win over Albania when the Scots took the lead through a 23rd minute penalty for Charlie Mulgrew.
Charlie Mulgrew steps up to fire in his third international goal in 40 senior appearances
From the sidelines in Haifa, Scotland boss Alex McLeish barks instructions at his team
The Blackburn Rovers defender missed from the spot in a friendly win over Hungary in Budapest in March. He made no mistake this time, taking advantage of an opportunity created by a needless shove in the back of Steven Naismith by Israel midfielder Dor Peretz.
McLeish described this as a cliched game of two halves. The second half saw Israel cut them open with an ease bordering on the alarming at times, yet the truth is this. The first was never a great deal better.
Time and again, the team in pastel blue were denied by McGregor until Peretz made amends for the concession of the penalty by slotting an equaliser in 52 minutes.
The leveller was hardly undeserved. As the first half ended an Israel team chasing their first win under Austrian legend Andi Herzog were all over the Scots like a cheap suit.
Always likely to be the busier goalkeeper McGregor frustrated Israel by pushing away a close range header from the unmarked Bibras Natcho before throwing his cap onto a weak low effort from former Celtic midfielder Beram Kayal.
The Israelis worked up a head of steam before half-time and the biggest let-off came in 40 minutes. Tierney’s clearance ricochetted into the path of Ben Sahar who got the other side of Robertson and thrust his way into the box, poking a low shot against the base of the post.
Kieran Tierney fills in at left centre-back after McLeish’s decision to go for a three-man defence
Former Celtic midfielder Beram Kayal proved highly influential for the visitors in their win
As an attacking force Scotland’s efforts were largely pitiful until the final minutes when the nerves of the home team – unaccustomed to winning games – created shooting chances for Callum McGregor, one of them of the golden variety.
Yet a draw for Scotland would have been a travesty. A miscarriage of justice,
Things began to unravel with the loss of the penalty scorer Mulgrew to a muscle strain at half-time, the introduction of Scott McKenna an act of necessity rather than choice.
The equaliser quickly became a matter of when rather than if. Israel were crafting so many chances that, by the law of averages, they were duty bound to score sometime.
That time came seven minutes into the second period, Peretz making amends for his penalty blunder by claiming a deserved equaliser.
Taleb Twatha tormented Scotland throughout a torrid second half, a weighted pass giving the midfielder the time and space to compose himself before rolling the ball past Tierney low into the net from 10 yards.
For Scotland things were taking an ominous turn. Only the brilliance of McGregor prevented the home team from scoring again swiftly as he parried a thundering Natcho strike from 20 yards.
Aston Villa new boy John McGinn makes the early running in the heart of midfield for Scotland
Allan McGregor can only watch in horror as Dor Peretz stabs home a deserved Israel equaliser
Souttar looks dejected after receiving his marching orders on just his third international cap
Hemmed into their own half the visitors could have done without losing a player.
John Souttar was already on a booking from a 27th minute foul when a slack, careless piece of play led to his departure. McLeish called the red card ‘soft’ insisting Dabbur ‘fooled’ the Polish referee.
Under pressure from Dabbur an attempt to turn and roll the ball back to McGregor went badly wrong, the striker latched onto the short ball and pressuring the Hearts player into a panicked foul on the edge of the area. On the verge of being substituted, the loss of Souttar to a second yellow card gave the night an air of inevitable decline.
With the scent of blood in their nostrils Israel went for the kill. It took a brilliant McGregor save from Ben Sahar’s header to prevent the loss of a second goal. Seconds later Twatha squandered an outstanding chance when he smashed a low cross against the crossbar from all of six yards.
For the Scots to prevail something had to change. Naismith had a rare sniff at goal, hooking a fumbled Johnny Russell cross wide of the post. Russell’s final contribution, Forrest was finally introduced as McLeish reverted to a back four. It did nothing to prevent the flow of traffic in the direction of Scotland’s goal.
Kayal’s shot hits Kieran Tierney and flies past McGregor to give Israel a vital lead
The Celtic full-back looks devastated as Scotland are finally overwhelmed in Haifa
Israel’s second goal was a horrible affair, Kayal’s cross prompting a horrible wild swing at Tierney, the ball slicing past McGregor for Israel’s winner with 15 minutes to play.
An act of self implosion was a fitting finale to a Scotland performance full of them.
Bristling at the suggestion of a ‘reality check for the Scots McLeish said: ‘Did we ever say we were at a level where we should be qualifying for major tournaments? We’ve not said that.
‘We know we’re trying to build to being a team that can win and get points consistently and we’re still not quite at that level.’