Former national boss Craig Brown today backed Aberdeen’s Graeme Shinnie and Scott McKenna to have successful Scotland careers.
Pittodrie captain Shinnie and centre-back McKenna both started the humiliating 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan.
The Euro 2020 qualifying defeat is arguably the worst result ever suffered by a Scotland side – and there have been many.
The inquisition has been swift and damning with Shinnie and McKenna both copping flak from some critics for their part in two goals scored by a nation ranked a lowly 117th in the world.
Having operated as a defensive midfielder in recent seasons for his club Shinnie was pitched in at left-back due to the injury absences of Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Celtic’s Kieran Tierney.
McKenna had been a fitness doubt having played in the 1-1 draw with Livingston just days before with a heavily strapped leg due to thigh tightness.
Both accepted the call to start for their nation. Both were criticised for their role in the goals.
However, Brown insisted their team-mates were equally culpable and has backed “outstanding players” Shinnie and McKenna to bounce back and play key roles at international level.
The last manager to lead Scotland to a major finals at World Cup 1998, Brown said: “It is completely unfair to apportion blame to Shinnie and McKenna.
“They are both very capable of playing for Scotland successfully.
“I would not hesitate in keeping Shinnie and McKenna as they are both outstanding players.
“There is no way either of them should be made a scapegoat.
“On both occasions for those goals the delivery of the final ball was unchallenged. The challenge to the boy that released the ball should have come from a midfield player.
“You have got to ask who closed down the cross? Nobody.
“If you get time to measure a cross you can make a job of it.
“You can’t always blame the back four players because a goal is scored. And even then for the third it is very unlike McKenna to be beaten in the air like that.
“The player who out-jumped McKenna for the third goal, Baktiyor Zainutdinov, I don’t know anyone in Scotland who could have done that.
“Every country has a player, or players, who are exceptional. I found that out when playing Finland with Jari Litmanen and Marians Pahars with Latvia.”
Making his first competitive start Shinnie in particular has come in for criticism. Former Rangers striker Gordon Dalziel, never capped during his career, ridiculously claimed of Shinnie: “I do not know what he brings to football and Scottish football.”
The Dons captain himself was brutally and admirably honest post match in the assessment of his own performance, admitting: “I let myself down.”
Shinnie, 27, also admitted to fears he may not get back into the Scotland team after the defeat in Nursultan.
Former Aberdeen boss Brown, now a non-executive director at Pittodrie, insists Shinnie’s quality has never been in doubt.
He said: “When Shinnie played left-back at Inverness and came to Aberdeen he was the best left-back in the league.
“After a while Tierney came through but Shinnie is still an outstanding left-back.
“He hasn’t become a bad left-back because of one goal that was scored.
“He is an outstanding player.
“To blame him for the second goal is very unfair because that pass that went inside him was sublime with the timing and weight. People are forgetting the quality of that pass.
“Nor can you blame him for the high ball that came over and in between him and McKenna.”
Scotland now face minnows San Marino away tomorrow.
Victory against the lowest-ranked nation in world football, no matter how emphatic, would not symbolise a resurrection or “bouncing back” from the Scots.
Yet Brown, who guided Scotland to Euro 96 and World Cup 98 qualification, has not given up hope of qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals. There remains, of course, the Uefa Nations League play-off route having cemented that security late last year with a 3-2 defeat of Israel.
Brown said: “I am still optimistic we can get to the Euros. We will get back to a near full strength team after the recent injuries. I would not discount qualification.”
Kazakhstan may be languishing a lowly 117th in the Fifa world rankings but amid the backlash Brown insists there should be some understanding of the step up in quality needed at international level – against any nation.
He said: “People underestimate the level of international football, even of the lesser known countries.
“To play in the Premiership is a mile away from international football. That is why I was so privileged when I was Scotland manager because I had guys who had played at a high level in European football and were ready.
“Blackburn had won the English title and I had three players from that team in Colin Hendry, Kevin Gallacher and Billy McKinlay.
“Now we are looking for players from the Championship.
“I had a winner of the Champions League in Paul Lambert with Borussia Dortmund and Celtic and Rangers were progressing in Europe.
“Even with these boys we could compete okay in most of the qualifying competitions but couldn’t win anything.
“People underestimate the ability at international football, it is a much higher standard.”