Vogts on precipice as lowly Moldova embarrass Scotland

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The Independent Football

Berti Vogts' hold on the Scotland manager's job looks increasingly tenuous after the World Cup qualifier he billed a "must-win fixture" ended in stalemate amid a storm of booing from the Scottish supporters here last night.

Berti Vogts' hold on the Scotland manager's job looks increasingly tenuous after the World Cup qualifier he billed a "must-win fixture" ended in stalemate amid a storm of booing from the Scottish supporters here last night.

It could have been worse for Vogts. Facing the nation who lie 113th in Fifa's world rankings, Scotland fell behind in the first half, failed to build on a prompt equaliser by Steven Thompson and were fortunate to avoid defeat as Moldova responded to the craft of the outstanding Sergei Covaliciuc.

Vogts' contract runs until after the 2006 World Cup, but the Scottish Football Association will now come under pressure to part with him. With just two points from three matches, Scotland would have to produce some extraordinary results to finish in the top two of Group Five.

Afterwards, the German said he "understood" the fans' disappointment. Clearly agitated, he added: "It's not a resignation matter at this moment. It's a bad result and it will be very difficult, but we can still qualify."

The number of people who share that opinion could probably be counted on the fingers of the offensive gesture many of the Tartan Army aimed at Vogts. Even the players seemed to have caught the mood, Thompson saying: "Neither the result nor the performance was good enough."

Vogts, banned from the touchline by Fifa for verbally abusing the referee in Scotland's defeat by Norway, watched the bleak scenario unfold from the stand. Moldova had fared even worse - no goals or points from three matches - and Scotland made a deceptively promising start. With Barry Ferguson prominent, Stevie Crawford sent a shot flashing narrowly over.

A third of the game had elapsed when both countries broke their scoring duck in the space of four minutes. To Vogts' horror, no doubt, Moldova struck first in the 28th minute. A cross by Ghenadie Olexici was headed on by Covaliciuc to Serghei Dadu, who turned Gary Caldwell before beating Craig Gordon with a low shot.

However, Dadu's spell in the spotlight was short-lived. Darren Fletcher's cross was missed in the air by Iurie Priganiuc, the ball falling to Thompson on the far side of the penalty spot. With the Moldova keeper, Evgheni Hmaruc, badly positioned, the striker despatched a right-footed shot for his third goal in 16 internationals.

The impetus, though, remained with Moldova, who tried to play the kind of football Scotland supporters yearn to see, with Covaliciuc easily the most skilful player on view. They almost had a second goal soon after half-time, Gordon diving full length to claw behind a full-blooded volley by Dadu.

Scotland, by contrast, often sought to play the long ball, a ploy Vogts devised because of the uneven playing surface. Their unease was compounded by the introduction of Ian Murray for Gary Naysmith, the substitute frequently being mesmerised by Covaliciuc's footwork.

Vogts' heart was surely in his mouth after 74 minutes as the Spartak Moscow man again waltzed around a defender and picked out the unmarked Dadu with a chipped cross. The header was off target, but Moldova continued to look the more likely to score a second goal.

Covaliciuc's deft touch prised Scotland open yet again with six minutes remaining, but Serghei Rogaciov drilled the ball across goal. Vogts was spared the indignity of defeat, yet there may be no such reprieve from his previously supportive masters at the Scottish FA.

MOLDOVA (3-5-2): Hmaruc (CSKA Sofia); Lascencov (Nistru), Catinsus (Arsenal Tula), Priganiuc (Sheriff Tiraspol); Olexici (Amkar Perm), Savinov (Ojgorod), Ivanov (FC Moscow), Covalciuc (Spartak Moscow), Bursuc (Mistru); Dadu (CSKA Moscow), Rogaciov (Saturn Ramenskoye). Substitutes used: Cebotari (Volani Lutk) for Olexici, 39.

SCOTLAND (4-4-2): Gordon (Hearts); G Caldwell (Hibernian), S Caldwell (Sunderland), Webster (Hearts), Naysmith (Everton); Fletcher (Manchester United), Ferguson (Blackburn), Holt (Norwich), Cameron (Wolves); Thompson (Rangers), Crawford (Plymouth). Substitutes used: Murray (Hibernian) for Naysmith, h-t; Miller (Wolves) for Fletcher, 66; McCulloch (Wigan) for Thompson, 86.

Referee: K Jakobsson (Iceland).

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