Macedonia 1 Scotland 0
Scotland suffered a disappointing start to their World Cup qualifying campaign when they slumped to defeat against Macedonia in their opening match.
The home side took the lead after just five minutes and Ilcho Naumoski’s strike proved to be decisive as Srecko Katanec’s men held on to claim all three points.
The searing temperatures in Skopje were always going to be an issue for the Scots and they lacked a cutting edge for the remainder of the game, failing to find the goal that would at least have allowed them to put an early point on the board.
George Burley had his preferred team in mind for several weeks ahead of this match and there were no real surprises when his starting XI was revealed.
Kenny Miller and James McFadden both started and were given the task of getting the goals despite a less than inspiring partnership in last month’s drab goalless friendly against Northern Ireland at Hampden.
With West Brom’s James Morrison injured, Barry Robson was given the nod in midfield alongside Celtic team-mates Paul Hartley and Scott Brown, as well as Darren Fletcher.
As expected, stand-in skipper Stephen McManus was able to shake off a knock he picked up in last week’s Old Firm derby to take his place in the heart of defence with Gary Caldwell.
Hundreds of Scotland fans were locked out of the City Stadium before kick-off when the Macedonian Football Association refused to allow entry to those with tickets for the home end, fearing for the safety of fans.
The 1,000 travelling supporters who did manage to see the game witnessed the worst possible start when Scotland found themselves trailing with just five minutes on the clock.
The Macedonians earned a free-kick just outside the area when McManus was deemed to have fouled Goran Maznov and Goce Sedloski stepped up for the set-piece. His effort was touched on to the post by goalkeeper Craig Gordon but Naumoski pounced to rifle home the rebound from six yards.
The Scots could have hit back through a free-kick of their own when Graham Alexander was fouled by Robert Petrov but Robson’s curling shot was weak and easily smothered by goalkeeper Petar Milosevski.
Macedonia threatened again when Petrov provided a cross from the left for Goran Pandev but his ferocious volley cannoned off the body of Caldwell, denying the home side’s star man the chance to add to their tally.
Scotland then had a decent chance of their own when Fletcher set up McFadden and he embarked on a run which took him past several red jerseys only for his shot to be blocked by the body of Igor Mitreski, before the Birmingham striker nodded the rebound wide.
At the other end, the home fans screamed for a penalty when Maznov went to ground under pressure from Gordon but the Macedonia man appeared to make the most of it and the pleas were ignored by referee Pavel Kralovec.
Veliche Shumolikoski then released Maznov on a surging run which was halted by Caldwell. The ball broke to Pandev but he fired straight at Gordon in what proved to be the last real chance of the first half.
Scotland tried to force their way back into the game after the break and Scott Brown drew a decent save from Milosevski with a well-struck shot from distance, before the heroics of Gordon prevented the visitors from falling further behind.
A Pandev corner was cleared as far as Shumolikoski who unleashed a thunderous long range effort that the Scots keeper just managed to tip over the crossbar with one hand.
Gordon then punched to safety a dangerous cross into the box from Pandev before Maznov could connect with a header at his right post.
Scotland made their first change when Kris Commons replaced Hartley, before Gordon was again called into action to block a point-blank effort from Naumoski.
Burley’s men failed with their own claim for a penalty when Miller played through McFadden and he went to ground as the goalkeeper dived to claim the ball.
No spot-kick was forthcoming and all McFadden earned for his protests was a yellow card from the Czech official.
Miller was withdrawn for Rangers team-mate Kris Boyd with ten minutes to go as the Scots had one last throw of the dice but Macedonia held on for maximum points with Burley still seeking his first win as Scotland manager.
Macedonia: Milosevski, Noveski, Petrov, Sedloski, Mitreski, Lazarevski, Georgievski, Shumulikoski, Maznov, Pandev, Naumoski. Replacements: Pacovski, Polozani, Tasevski, Demiri, Trajanov, Grncarov, Ristic.
Scotland: Gordon, Alexander, Naysmith, McManus, Caldwell, Hartley, Fletcher, Brown, Miller, McFadden, Robson. Replacements: McGregor, Boyd, Broadfoot, Maloney, Commons, Stewart, Berra.
Referee: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Republic)
CRAIG GORDON: The only player to enhance his reputation. Deserved better for the goal after a brilliant save onto the post, and followed that up with another stunning stop – 7/10.
GRAHAM ALEXANDER: Solid enough defensively but simply did not get forward enough from right-back, especially in the first half – 4.
STEPHEN McMANUS: Appeared unlucky to concede the free-kick which led to the goal. Looked uncomfortable in the first half but improved, holding a higher line after the break – 5.
GARY CALDWELL: Magnificent tackle to prevent Goran Maznov making it 2-0. Made a couple of other vital interventions as well – 6.
GARY NAYSMITH: Much more of a threat than Alexander, the left-back delivered one superb cross after the break – 5.
SCOTT BROWN: Repeatedly gave the ball away in the first half and faded badly in the second – 4.
PAUL HARTLEY: Struggled to nullify the threat of the deep-lying Goran Pandev and failed to set the right tempo from his deep-lying midfield position – 4.
DARREN FLETCHER: Failed to make any significant impact on the game – 4.
BARRY ROBSON: Looked the most likely midfielder to cause Macedonia problems, with some good runs and testing deliveries from set-pieces – 5.
JAMES McFADDEN: The one outfield player who looked a genuine threat, he was often a one-man attack and was unlucky to be denied a second-half penalty – 6.
KENNY MILLER: Cut a lonely figure in front of a midfield which failed to provide adequate support or service. Also had a good penalty shout – 4.
KRIS BOYD (for Miller, 80): No time to make a significant impact – 4.
SHAUN MALONEY (for Robson, 76): Looked lively but introduced too late – 5.
KRIS COMMONS (for Hartley, 65): One very dangerous cross but otherwise largely ineffective – 5.
Burley disappointed at defeat
George Burley insisted Scotland did enough for a draw as their World Cup qualifying campaign got off to the worst possible start in Macedonia.
In his first competitive game in charge, Burley watched his side concede just five minutes into the game in a wretched first-half display in Skopje.
But Burley, still without a win four games after taking over, insists his side’s improved second-half display deserved more.
"Disappointed to lose but all of the second half I thought we dominated the game," he told Setanta Sports 1.
"We kept battling away until the end and I thought they deserved something out of it."
Scotland were denied what appeared two good penalty shouts in the same attack when Kenny Miller and James McFadden were brought down in the box.
"I spoke to the boys and they thought it was a stonewall penalty," said Burley, who refused to criticise a referee he had expressed concern about in the build-up to the match.
"Overall, the referee had a good game. Maybe that decision he got wrong."
Burley refused to use the heat as an excuse for his side's slow start and revealed how his half-time team-talk led to an improved second-half showing.
"I said ’I want you to step on a bit more, not back off them, put them under pressure’," he said.
"And, second half, I thought we were outstanding. We played some good football, passed it well, but their keeper’s made a few good saves."
He added: "You don’t always get what you deserve."
Burley set a target of 17 points out of 24 from Scotland’s Group 9 campaign but he does not believe Wednesday’s match in Iceland has now become a must-win game.
But he said: "You’re always looking to pick points up."
Fans locked out
The misery of hundreds of Scotland fans at today’s World Cup qualifying defeat in Macedonia was compounded after they were refused entry to the ground.
Up to 1,000 supporters were locked out of the stadium in Skopje before kick-off after being told they had bought tickets for the home end and would not be allowed in on safety grounds.
Riot police were called in to ensure order was maintained, forcing supporters to return to town if they wanted to watch the game on television.
Scottish Football Association security advisor Derek Kirkwood said travel club members had been allowed entry with no problems.
But he added: "There’s probably about another thousand who have come over to Macedonia in the hope of maybe getting tickets for the match and they’ve been buying them off people in the street.
"Unfortunately, they’re for the Macedonian section of the stadium and the police commander in charge of the event is not allowing these people in."
The Macedonian FA had repeatedly warned in the build-up to the game that if they suspected spectators entering the home section to be Scottish then they would not be admitted.
Kirkwood insisted the SFA had made representations before the game to let these fans in but the efforts were refused, even though the stadium was not full as he had been told it would be.
He told BBC Scotland: "We’ve done absolutely everything we can in our power to say to them (the police), ’Look, these guys are known as the greatest fans in the world, won’t you please just let them in. I know they shouldn’t be buying tickets in the street but there’s room in this stadium. We can assure you they’ll go in there and not cause any bother’.
"But the police chief has just said, ’Absolutely not’."
Kirkwood admitted today’s scenes could be repeated in Wednesday’s qualifier in Iceland.
"We’ve only got 1,000 tickets for the stadium up in Reykjavik and again the Tartan Army want to see the game," he said.