Scotland boss Alex McLeish admits his much-criticised defence were a bundle of nerves against San Marino, the world’s worst team.
He reckons a combination of the aftermath of a disastrous 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan and boos from the Tartan Army contributed to his back-line’s jitters.
But McLeish believes the experience of a tough week will ultimately make his young side defensively stronger.
The Scotland rearguard were slaughtered following a disastrous 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan, ranked 117 in the world, in the Euro 2020 qualifying opener.
That damaging defeat piled the pressure on McLeish and his squad with the Tartan Army booing throughout a laboured 2-0 win over minnows San Marino.
Against the side rock bottom of the Fifa world rankings, the Scots’ midfield lacked urgency and creativity while the attack struggled to find a cutting edge.
Yet McLeish praised the under-fire back four for doing their job of securing a clean sheet in the Group I qualifier.
He said: “We kept good discipline at the back.
“The offensive marking was good and they were making sure there was no penetrative action.
“The players were very solid at the back. There were one or two nervy clearances and maybe clearing the ball when they could make a pass.
“San Marino had a few chances, not clear cut, but that put the frighteners on the fans a wee bit.
“They got a bit agitated and the players react to that.
“The players are human. Sometimes they get affected.
“But they have to come through that and if they do it will make them stronger. The boys at the back dealt with those interim nerves.”
The depths plunged by that loss in Nursultan were proved to be of Mariana Trench proportions by Russia’s comprehensive 4-0 away defeat of Kazakhstan.
Aberdeen duo Scott McKenna and Graeme Shinnie both started against Kazakhstan.
McKenna retained his starting slot against San Marino while Shinnie dropped to the bench.
Shinnie’s omission was expected following the return of Scotland captain Andrew Robertson from mouth surgery to take up the left-back slot the Dons captain occupied in Thursday’s loss in Kazakhstan.
Shinnie’s omission was one of six changes to the starting line-up to face San Marino.
One surprise omission was Celtic’s James Forrest, who had scored five goals in the UEFA Nations League double header against Albania and Israel in November.
Forrest’s goals helped Scotland top their group to secure the insurance of a place in the play-offs should they not qualify for the Euros via the group stages.
Within minutes of Forrest’s introduction as a substitute mid way through the second half he had set up the second goal.
McLeish said: “We made a lot of changes and had fresh players coming in.
“James has played a lot of football and I explained to him that he is an integral part of the team and the squad.
“I said to James that I knew he would want to play.
“Everyone wanted to play but I said I was going to change for the game regardless.
“There was nothing frightening about it or anything like that.”
McLeish’s future as national manager could be decided by the Euro 2020 qualifying double header against Cyprus at Hampden and Belgium away in June.
Three points from the clash with Cyprus and a strong performance will be the minimum requirement to keep alive a qualifying campaign that has already been damaged.
Having been hit by injury call-offs for the recent qualifiers McLeish should have more selection options in June.
His message to the Tartan Army is clear. He said: “Stick by the Scottish national team.
“Over the two games we had a mountain of changes and it is never easy when you don’t get a momentum and a rhythm.
“We need a nucleus of bedding down the team that we want to put on the pitch.”