WHAT next for the beleaguered Scottish national team? Bottom of their World Cup qualifying section with no wins from four games and hurtling dangerously towards the abyss of pot five for the Euro 2016 campaign unless there is some form of upturn in the six remaining qualifiers.
With only six wins from their past 22 competitive games and none in their last five, the feeling is that Scotland has hit its lowest ebb of the modern era.
In the eyes of many, the situation will improve as soon as Craig Levein, the highly unpopular manager, is shown the door.
Already the subject of widespread scorn, his credibility was given a further battering when he returned home after Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat in Belgium to find himself mocked up as a Brussels sprout on the front page of a leading national newspaper.
When it comes to this – the humiliation and hurt it will have heaped upon his family and all that – Levein, an admirably resilient character, must wonder if it’s worth soldiering on even if he isn’t sacked.
The level of anger against the manager from a disgruntled public has reached such intensity that it is hard to see how the situation can continue. It is beginning to resemble the Steve Kean saga at Blackburn Rovers before the poisonous relationship between supporters and manager was brought to an end by his sacking.
Whether Levein deserves the axe or not, there is a feeling that, until he’s gone, negativity will continue to grip the national team and prevent any prospect of an upturn. What can’t be disputed is that the stats throughout his three-year tenure make for grim reading.
Hitting bottom spot in a section where he claimed his side could feasibly win all ten games appears to be the tipping point of what has become one long-running soap opera of a reign.
Talk of challenging for World Cup qualification as recently as six weeks ago has given way to a grim reality that Scotland are now battling to avoid the ignominy of the wooden spoon.
The big question, however, is whether anyone can do significantly better than Levein. Statistically, he may be the worst Scotland manager in recent history, but this is skewed by the fact he has been operating out of the third and fourth pots – therefore meeting tougher opponents – while most of his predecessors were in the first or second pot.
His fiercest critics argue that he should be getting better from a squad which is widely felt to be the best Scotland have had since they last qualified for a major tournament in 1998.
While this may indeed be the case in relative terms, the only Scotland players who are of any genuine quality are the two Fletchers – Steven and Darren – and the goalkeeper, Allan McGregor, pictured left. Beyond this trio, it is doubtful if any other Scotland players would get near the squads of our three main qualifying rivals, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia.
Shaun Maloney, Kris Commons, James Forrest, Steven Naismith and James Morrison are all good club players, but have struggled to adapt to the heightened demands of international football.
There are those who blame the players’ lack of productivity on Levein, but, given that he has given most of them a chance to play in their natural positions, it is hard to see what another manager could do to get better out of them.
It seems entirely illogical that the struggles of the national team over a three-year period can be pinned against one man who has proved a shrewd manager elsewhere; all the more so, given that the team also toiled under his predecessor, George Burley.
They have been in with a shout of winning several matches under both Burley and Levein over the past five years – games against Norway, Macedonia (twice), Czech Republic, Lithuania, Serbia and Wales spring to mind – but have ultimately lacked the necessary quality to get over the line on each occasion.
When this keeps on happening, you have to wonder if perhaps the players – regardless of who the manager is – simply aren’t good enough to compete for qualification. This is a point that several players themselves have subtly alluded to of late, routinely insisting that they are trying their best and therefore implying that they are simply not as good as many people think.
In hindsight, it is hard to believe that anyone truly believed that Scotland had any chance of qualifying ahead of either Belgium or Croatia. To this observer, two points from four games – as galling as it is – doesn’t come as a great surprise. Nonetheless, it doesn’t change the fact that many people are angered by what has been deemed a calamitous start.
In order to progress in a less poisonous environment, the only logical step seems to be to give the public what they want and replace Levein with, say, Gordon Strachan.
The worry is, however, that we are entering the same type of vicious circle as Wales in being trapped in the fourth, fifth and sixth pots with a lack of star players.
With the brief exception of that rousing Euro 2008 campaign, Scotland have been on a downward slope for the past decade and a half, while many of the former minnows head in the opposite direction.
Unless there is a miracle worker out there, the fear is that Craig Levein will merely go down as the man who oversaw the latest leg of a heart- breaking Scottish journey into the international wilderness.