Scotland hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020 from Group I look over after a 2-1 defeat to Russia at Hampden.
The loss at the national stadium means the Scots have just six points from five games in the group, the top two in the section qualify for next year’s European Championships, Russia sit second, six points ahead of Steve Clarke’s side.
Scotland do still have the fallback of a UEFA Nations League play-off place and it looks like it will be required after the disappointing beginning to Group I – with Belgium the visitors to Hampden on Monday things don’t get an easier for the Dark Blues.
Scots boss Clarke made six changes to the side which lost 3-0 to Belgium in Brussels in June.
Leeds United defender Liam Cooper was drafted in for an international debut in central defence with skipper Andy Robertson, James Forrest, McGinn, Oli McBurnie and former Don Ryan Fraser restored to the starting eleven.
Aberdeen defender Mikey Devlin was on the bench alongside ex-Reds Kenny McLean, Ryan Christie and Ryan Jack.
In the opening minute the Dark Blues looked to get on the front foot with McGinn dragging a shot wide and at the other end Zhirkov’s hooked volley landed on the roof of the net in a lively opening.
On nine minutes Scotland were thwarted by the woodwork, Fraser’s inswinging corner from the left was headed down by Scott McTominay and from close range Stephen O’Donnell flicked the ball against the left post, but it bounced to safety.
However, a minute later the Scots weren’t to be denied. Fraser’s dipping cross from the left flank was spilled by Russian goalie Guilherme and McGinn was there to capitalise on the dire goalkeeping by turning the ball into the net from six yards.
Falling behind seemed to wake the visitors up and on the quarter hour goalie David Marshall was at full stretch to tip over Dzyuba’s towering header from Magomed Ozdoev’s delivery.
In the first period many of Russia’s most promising moves revolved around captain Dzyuba holding the ball up and then bringing tricky midfielder Aleksandr Golovin into play.
But on the half hour Scotland showed some more threat going forward with Fraser’s free-kick from the right headed into the hands of Guilherme by former Don Charlie Mulgrew.
It was Russia who were in the ascendancy and skipper Dzyuba pulled them level five minutes from half-time and it was a goal out of nothing.
Some neat play down the right culminated in Golovin being picked out in the box, his touch was poor, but Robertson’s attempted clearance was straight into the path of Dzyuba, who swept the ball home from 12 yards.
Scotland reached the interval without further damage and the break was badly needed for Clarke’s men having absorbed a significant amount of pressure in the second part of the first period.
Russia started the second half as they’d ended the first – on the front foot – Golovin was particularly lively and had a shot blocked by Mulgrew and also sent an effort narrowly over from the edge of the area.
It was backs to the wall stuff for the Scots and they fell behind in the 59th minute.
Aleksei Ionov’s delightful through ball down the inside right channel sent Golovin into the box and his cutback was bundled into the net by Zhirkov sliding in at the back post.
Four minutes later it was nearly game over as Georgi Dzhikiya’s chip from the left found Mario Fernandes unmarked, but Marshall managed to tip the right-back’s header onto the crossbar.
Then just seconds later Russia capitalised on more slack Scotland play with Ozdoev’s shot from 20 yards deflecting against the outside of the left post.
It was midway through the second period before Guilherme in the visiting goal was tested again as he clutched sub Christie’s 20-yard drive. Soon after Mulgrew curled a free-kick just wide as Scotland searched for a route back into the game.
At the other end the flying Marshall again saved the Dark Blues by tipping away Zhirkov’s lethal drive from the left angle of the box.
Scotland pushed for an equaliser in the closing stages, Guilherme spilled an O’Donnell cross which caused some panic in the Russian ranks, but Scotland couldn’t force the ball home.
At the other end Mulgrew hacked sub Aleksandr Erokhin’s effort off the line following a quick counter-attack, but it finished 2-1.
Scotland: David Marshall, Stephen O’Donnell, Liam Cooper, Charlie Mulgrew, Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay (Matt Phillips 78), John McGinn (Ryan Christie 62), Callum McGregor, James Forrest (Kenny McLean 62), Oli McBurnie, Ryan Fraser.
Subs not used: Jon McLaughlin, Craig MacGillivray, David Bates, Ryan Jack, Michael Devlin, Robert Snodgrass, Stuart Armstrong, Johnny Russell, Greg Taylor.
Russia: Guilherme, Mario Fernandes, Andrei, Semenov, Magomed Ozdoev, Roman Zobnin (Dmitri Barinov 66), Fedor Kudryashov, Georgi Dzhikiya, Aleksandr Golovin (Ilzat Akhmetov 88), Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksei Ionov (Aleksandr Erokhin 80), Artem Dzyuba.
Subs not used: Andrei Lunev, Soslan Dzhanaev, Roman Neustadter, Maksim Belyaev, Denis Cheryshev, Fedor Smolov, Vyacheslav Karavaev, Anton Miranchuk, Sergei Petrov.