Scotland’s World Cup dream is over and now the question is whether it is also the end of the line for boss Gordon Strachan.
After two failed campaigns it should be.
This isn’t baseball and shouldn’t be three strikes and you are out.
It is now 10 failed qualification bids for Scotland as the absence from a major finals extends to 20 agonising years since France 1998.
Strachan has been culpable for two of those failures – World Cup 2018 and Euro 2016.
Having held their Russia 2018 destiny in their own hands, the Scots imploded with a dismal performance in a must-win in Slovenia.
The recent revival and accompanying optimism hit the skids as Strachan’s Scots finished level on points with Slovakia, but finished in third place on goal difference to miss out on a play-off chance.
Strachan contract is now up having signed a deal to oversee the World Cup bid.
He remained tight lipped on his future when quizzed in the aftermath of the failed bid for Russia.
Strachan’s remit was to lead Scotland to the World Cup and that has not been achieved.
Despite a revival of 13 points from 15 before Slovenia, the Scots blew it when it mattered most.
That upsurge in form, until Ljubljana, could be used as an argument for a new deal.
However, Strachan has been culpable for the road to Russia closing with costly team selections and decisions throughout the campaign.
In Slovenia going 4-4-2 was a gamble that didn’t pay off as the midfield was over-run.
The baffling call not to go with prolific scorer Leigh Griffiths as first choice striker for the first half of the campaign was also significant.
However, after two failed campaigns Strachan’s future could ultimately be decided by himself.
It is understood the SFA were keen to have Strachan at the helm for the Euro 2020 push, regardless of whether Russia was gone.
SFA President Alan McRae was at the Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana.
Last June, McRae said: “I’d like to think this won’t be Gordon’s last campaign.
“We want him to be successful in the World Cup campaign but we also have Euro 2020 in Glasgow.
“That would be just perfect for him.”
The SFA board backed Strachan last year when there were calls for his head after the 3-0 loss in Slovakia.
They are understood to still be behind the Gothenburg Great but whether he has the hunger for the job remains to be seen.
It is indicative of the state of the Scottish game that after two failed bids the fate of the manager could be in his own hands.
There were two changes to the Scotland side that secured a dramatic 1-0 win over Slovakia
Having sustained a calf injury, James Morrison was ruled out with James Forrest dropping to the bench.
In their place were James McArthur and Chris Martin.
Slovenia began on the attack and carved out an opportunity in the opening minute when Josip Ilicic fired in a 20-yard drive, but keeper Craig Gordon comfortably saved.
The breakthrough came in the 32nd minute when skipper Darren Fletcher headed a clearance back into the Slovenia penalty area.
GRIFFITHS waited for the ball to bounce volleyed beyond Oblak and into the far corner from 15 yards.
It was the first goal Slovenia had conceded at home in the World Cup qualifying campaign.
All Scotland had to do was hold on and they were in the play-offs – but they couldn’t.
As the first half ticked down Ilicic smashed a low drive into the side netting.
The hosts made two changes at the break with Roman Bezjak and Nejc Skubic replacing Jan Repas and Aljaz Struna.
It was to prove to be an inspired substation very quickly.
In the 51st minute Rajoko Rotman was allowed far too much space to shoot and Gordon managed to palm his 30-yard drive wide.
It was a warning sign not heeded as within minutes Slovenia had levelled.
Slovenia were awarded a soft free kick for an innocuous challenge by Fletcher on Kurtic.
Whether it was a foul or not, the Scots still had to defend it, but the defence was far too static and failed to deal with Ilicic’s dangerous delivery.
Substitute BEZJAK ghosted in between Fletcher and Kieran Tierney to meet the cross and had a free head which he guided beyond Gordon from 12 yards.
It ended Scotland’s run of three clean sheets and elevated Slovakia back into the runners-up spot.
Russia faded further into distance when the Scots went behind in the 72nd minute.
Terrible defending was punished as the Scots failed to clear an Ilicic corner. The ball fell to Mevlija, who held off Charlie Mulgrew’s challenge.
He rolled a lay-off to BEZJAK, who was allowed a free shot and placed it from 12 yards beyond Gordon.
The defending for both goals was abysmal.
Scotland should have levelled in the 78th minute when the ball fell to Fletcher but he blasted high with the goal his mercy.
It was all square with two minutes remaining when substitute Robert SNODGRASS superbly collected a pass on his chest floated into his path by Fletcher.
He took a touch before nudging the ball into the corner of the Slovenian net.
A minute later Gordon had to produce an impressive save to deny Verbic’s curling 25-yard effort.
Slovenia were reduced to 10 men in the 90th minute when Cesar, in his 100th international, was sent off.
Slovenia: Oblak, Struna, Mevlja, Cesar, Jokic, Kurtic, Rotman, Ilicic, Repas, Matavz, Verbic.
Subs: Bezjak (for Repas 46), Struna (for Skubicat 46), Vetrihat (for Matavz 89).
Subs not used : Belec, Viler, Sirok, Sporar, Mlinar, Koprivec.
Scotland: Gordon, Berra, Mulgrew, Robertson, Tierney, McArthur, D. Fletcher, Bannan, Martin, Griffiths, Phillips.
Subs: Anya (for Martin 53), Snodgrass (for McArthur 79), S Fletcher (for Tierney 80).
Subs not used: A. McGregor, McGinn, Whittaker, Hanley, Forrest, Cooper, C. McGregor, Archer.
Referee: Johan Eriksson (Sweden)