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Scotland Under 21s reach end of another difficult road

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Our reporter Mark Gillespie rounds up the latest failure to qualify for a major competition for our Under-21 side.
 
And so another Scotland side misses out on yet another finals, as the Under-21 campaign stuttered to its end on Tuesday night in Macedonia. For watchers of their senior counterparts, the race to reach next year’s Euro finals in Poland has a depressingly familiar script, as early hopes were quickly quashed long before the curtain finally came down in Skopje on Tuesday night.
 
It was a fourth successive goalless, pointless outcome for Scot Gemmill’s side, as a sharper, hungrier Macedonian XI booked their country’s first appearance at any major finals with an emphatic 2-0 victory. Scotland will again look on from the side lines as eastern European teams of a similar stature battle it out a major finals.
 
The campaign begun last September with an encouraging 2-1 victory in Northern Ireland, as Ryan Christie and Ryan Fraser fired Scotland to a deserved win. A 3-1 win in the corresponding fixture at St Mirren Park in March kept Scotland’s hopes alive; a Jason Cummings double sparking a second half fight back. The wins over the Irish were to prove Scotland’s only victories of the campaign.
 
A 2-1 defeat to a classy French side at Pittodrie last September was to shatter any fragile optimism, as a late Billy King goal gave the result a more flattering look. By the time the Scots fell to a 2-0 defeat in the return game in March qualification hopes were already hanging by a thread.
 
Valuable points were also dropped at home, with Iceland frustrating the Scots in a 0-0 draw at Pittodrie last October. A month later, and Ukraine snatched a late point in a 2-2 draw at a blustery St Mirren Park. This was another game where the Scots did a lot of good things, but succumbed to sloppy defending. With only a win and a draw to show from their five home fixtures, results were beginning to tell.
 
And Macedonia all but sealed Scotland’s fate with a 1-0 victory at Tynecastle in September, before the wheels well and truly came off four days later with a 4-0 loss in Ukraine. Again Scotland gave a masterclass in the fine margin between success and failure. In Kiev the Scots side had good possession and controlled much of the game in the opening half, before conceding three soft second half goals. It is becoming an all too familiar tale.
 
Post mortems were already being conducted during the campaign, with manager Ricky Sbragia reaching his own conclusions, stepping aside after the Ukraine defeat to allow a new coach two matches to try and rebuild. Scot Gemmill took the over the reins and immediately carried out some radical surgery to the squad. With the likes of John McGinn, Calum Patterson and Ollie Burke moving up to senior level, he took the opportunity to introduce ten new faces. It was to prove a torrid introduction as they fell to a 2-0 defeat in windswept Iceland.
 
Time will be given to see how Gemmill’s new boys develop, as a new era gets underway. Last night’s defeat was another harsh lesson of the challenges the national team faces against previously unfancied countries, now better resourced with upcoming talent.
 
A new radical change in squad personnel goes hand in hand with a policy of continuity at Hampden. Gemmill has nurtured all the new players from Under-17 level through to 19s already, whilst former coach Sbragia has moved back to a coach mentoring role. The deeper concern will be how relatively few of the Under-21 crop make it all the way up to senior level, as questions continue pile up about the health of the game at national level.

Mark Gillespie | YFS North Ayrshire Senior Reporter
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