ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN (AFP) - Alex McLeish refused to quit as Scotland manager after their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign got off to a "horrible" start with a humiliating 3-0 defeat against Kazakhstan on Thursday (March 21).
The Kazakhs, ranked 117th in the world, struck twice inside 10 minutes through Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy to leave an under-strength Scotland shell-shocked in the Group I clash in Nursultan.
McLeish's men secured the safety net of a playoff to qualify via the Nations League in November and already that looks like their only realistic route to a first major tournament in 22 years as Baktiyor Zainutdinov's terrific header made it 3-0 six minutes into the second half.
It was one of the most embarrassing results in Scotland's history and McLeish admitted his players had paid the price for their woeful start.
"It was horrible. They hit us with two blockbusters," McLeish said. "It was disappointing not to see a great reaction from that.
"At half-time we tried to change it a wee bit to see if we could unsettle Kazakhstan, but they were very sharp on the night.
"It's a sore one. The facts are that we were beaten by a team ranked lower than us.
"On paper, we should win but I think you have to give Kazakhstan a bit of credit for the way they played." Scotland have a painful history of falling victim to shock results against the game's minnows, but Kazakhstan are the lowest ranked nation to beat Scotland.
In terms of the misery inflicted only a 1-0 defeat against Lithuania in a European Championship qualifier in 2003 and a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in the 1990 World Cup compare to the Kazakhstan shocker.
A draw against the Faroe Islands in 2002 was another low point, as were the 1978 World Cup draw with Iran and a 4-0 thrashing by Norway in 2009.
McLeish to battle on
When it was put to McLeish that it could be enough to cost him his job, the former Rangers boss vowed to fight on.
"I'll just continue doing my job and suffice it to say I'm not going to get drawn into that question," he said.
"It possibly puts more pressure on me. We have introduced a few new names over the last year or so and it can take time, but I know we don't have time." Asked if the loss was the worst of his career, McLeish added: "I don't really rank defeats. I just feel in terms of losing then I have to bounce back.
"I always feel low after a defeat but I'm pretty good at bouncing back." Without captain Andy Robertson and the highly-rated Kieran Tierney, McLeish was forced to name Graeme Shinnie in an unfamiliar role at left-back, and the Aberdeen skipper was exposed for both the first two goals.
Scotland looked longingly for an offside flag that never came as Pertsukh ran onto a long ball over the top and fired high past the helpless Scott Bain.
The visitors never recovered and Shinnie was caught ball-watching as Vorogovskiy was picked out by Islambek Kuat's pass to slot past Bain again.
Kazakhstan scored just six goals and failed to win a game in their entire qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup.
However, they had half that goal tally and the three points sewn up before the hour mark when Scott McKenna was outjumped by Zainutdinov, who directed his header across Bain into the bottom corner.
Scotland were also without Ryan Fraser and Charlie Mulgrew, who were not selected in agreement with their clubs due to the plastic surface the match was played on.
Bouncing back with victory away to San Marino on Sunday (March 24) is now imperative for Scotland to have any chance of automatic qualification from Group I by finishing in the top two.
But with Russia and World Cup semi-finalists Belgium also in the six-team group, Scotland already have a mountain to climb.