How Gordon Strachan's Scotland reign ultimately ended in failure

Gordon Strachan
Strachan's Scotland reign included a painful 3-0 loss to England at Wembley

Scotland begin the search for an eighth manager in the 21st Century following Gordon Strachan's departure.

Slovenia delivered the final blow with Sunday's 2-2 draw in Ljubljana.

When committing to a new contract just five days after the failed bid to reach Euro 2016, Strachan spoke of the fans' goodwill being the driving force behind his decision.

Two years on, that goodwill has gone. And so has he.

Almost five years ago, as Craig Levein's miserable reign as Scotland boss was drawing to a close with defeat in Brussels, disgruntled travelling supporters unfurled a banner reading 'Strachan SOS'.

The call was answered but, while there were glimmers of hope along the way, the former Coventry, Southampton, Celtic and Middlesbrough manager could not complete the rescue mission.

Gordon Strachan's Scotland record
Played: 40
Won: 19
Drawn: 9
Lost: 12
Win %: 47.5

In 26 competitive matches he managed 13 wins but crucial dropped points over the past two qualification campaigns against Georgia and Lithuania left Scotland facing the reality of more than 20 years without involvement at a major tournament.

Strachan proud to take on the challenge

"I'm very proud and my family are proud," Strachan said after being appointed in January 2013. "The time is right for me to be able to take a job like this."

Scotland's hopes of qualification for the 2014 World Cup were in tatters when Levein was sacked, and were snuffed out completely by March as Strachan's competitive record opened with a home defeat by Wales and a loss in Serbia, following the previous month's 1-0 friendly win over Estonia.

Brazil was out of reach but home and away qualifying victories over Croatia and a win against Macedonia, as well as friendly wins over Norway and Poland and spirited displays against England and Nigeria, were cause for optimism.

Scotland beat Croatia home and away in Strachan's first campaign
Scotland beat Croatia home and away in Strachan's first campaign

Missing out on Euro 2016

With the 2016 European Championship expanded from 16 to 24 teams, it was anticipated France would once again be the venue for a Tartan Army party at a major finals, the nation having last mixed at the top table during World Cup 1998.

However, a difficult draw and a horrible night in Tbilisi meant that Germany, Poland and Republic of Ireland progressed from Group D, along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland; just to rub it in.

Scotland had the upper hand against the Irish and twice held the Poles but both of those nations managed home wins against the world champions and both took full points from their meetings with Georgia.

Shaun Maloney supplied a moment of magic in a rousing 1-0 win against Republic of Ireland in Glasgow, which felt hugely significant following the previous month's 2-2 draw in Warsaw.

A 1-1 draw in Dublin left Scotland in decent shape for a play-off place at least but then came a calamitous slip in Georgia.

Scotland lost 1-0 to Georgia in October 2015
Scotland lost 1-0 away to Georgia in October 2015

"Sometimes it's a bumpy ride to get where you want to go - we had a bump tonight and we have to deal with that and I have every confidence in the players," Strachan commented after the 1-0 defeat.

Next up was Germany at Hampden and twice Scotland came from behind to level only for the visitors to prevail 3-2. And there was more heartache to come.

Scotland rallied from the loss of an early Robert Lewandowski goal at Hampden to lead Poland 2-1 and renew hope but then came a double blow to leave Strachan's side down and out.

Shane Long put the Irish ahead at home to Germany, a lead they would not relinquish, and then Lewandowski scrambled home from close range with the last kick of the ball.

"After working hard for a year and at the end of the year, something like that happens in the last seconds of a game. That's over a year's work," said a disconsolate Strachan. "I can't remember us getting any luck ourselves."

Looking to Russia

Soon after completing the campaign with a 6-0 routing of Gibraltar, Strachan agreed to stay on for a further two years, citing the positive reaction from fans.

Saying the 12,000 support in Faro was "an experience that will live with me for the rest of my life", Strachan added: "It was a recognition that the players' efforts had been appreciated.

"That appreciation and goodwill has also been apparent in the messages of support I have received this week, from emails and letters to chats in the street."

At the time, Strachan's former Aberdeen and Scotland team-mate Willie Miller warned: "We're basically celebrating failure. For me, this was the opportunity for any manager to qualify."

Scotland opened the World Cup qualifying campaign with a big win in Malta
Scotland opened the World Cup qualifying campaign with a big win in Malta

However, there was very little discord in the media as Strachan turned his sights on Russia 2018.

"I want the best for our country and for those players and I believe we can make Scotland proud in the upcoming qualifiers," he said.

The 2016 international calendar opened with stuffy friendly wins over Czech Republic and Denmark, followed by more sobering summer losses to Italy and France.

The Scots topped Group F after an opening 5-1 success in Malta but that was followed by a dismal 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania and a toothless 3-0 loss in Slovakia brought with it noisy flak from the fans who had serenaded Strachan in southern Portugal.

A repeat scoreline at Wembley may have been the final straw but the Scottish FA stuck with Strachan.

New hope quashed

Strachan turned 60 in February and the first match of his new decade was one of a number of 'must-win games' the media would highlight throughout 2017.

Slovenia were the visitors to Hampden and a late goal by the often maligned Chris Martin would give the much changed Scots line-up a 1-0 win.

A dramatic 2-2 draw with England in Glasgow followed with Scotland scoring twice from Leigh Griffiths free-kicks in the closing minutes to go 2-1 up but then succumbing to an even later Harry Kane goal.

Solid wins over Lithuania and Malta set Strachan's men up for their final double-header and there would be even more late drama.

Gordon Strachan
Strachan's side could not get the win they needed in Slovenia

Martin Skrtel's own goal gave Scotland another 1-0 home win, this time over Slovakia, and propelled them into second place in the group and on course for a World Cup play-off berth.

That ambition was further bolstered by results elsewhere which meant Scotland could progress from Group F with victory over Slovenia in Ljubljana.

And it started well enough with the irrepressible Griffiths putting Scotland ahead by the break.

However, defensive lapses allowed Roman Bezjak to score twice for the hosts, and though Robert Snodgrass levelled it was not enough as Slovakia beat Malta to overtake Scotland on goal difference.

Two unsuccessful full qualification campaigns on Strachan's watch meant it is 10 in a row without reaching a major finals for the Scots.

The new Nations League will begin next year, with the Euro 2020 qualifiers starting in early 2019. With Hampden one of the host venues for the next European Championship, Scotland will be even more desperate to end their qualification hoodoo.

But who can become the first Scotland manager since Craig Brown to get the team over the line?

It's a question that will preoccupy the minds of SFA board members, supporters and journalists alike but with no further confirmed fixtures in the diary, it will not necessarily be a quick appointment.

The waiting continues.

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