SCOTLAND’S bid to reach the Euro 2020 finals got off to a disastrous start here in Nursultan this evening when they crashed to a heavy and humiliating defeat to Kazakhstan.

Shocking defensive lapses by Alex McLeish’s men in the Astana Arena allowed Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy to score in the first-half and Baktiyor Zainutdinov to net in the second.

The 650 members of the Tartan Army who had sat silently through most of a dispiriting 90 minutes booed their own players off the park after referee Srdjan Jovanovic blew the final whistle.

Their team had lacked invention in midfield and ineffectual in attack. As for their defending? The less said about that the better. It was quite simply woeful.

Having to start their qualifying campaign 3,000 miles and two time zones away in Central Asia on an artificial surface without a host of important players absent was clearly far from ideal.

Still, it was not unreasonable to expect them to beat rivals ranked 117th in the FIFA World Rankings - below those footballing behemoths Haiti, Madagascar and Mauritania.

Armenia and Latvia have both drawn with Kazakhstan away in the last couple of years while Georgia and even Montenegro have beaten them.

That was, admittedly, before Michal Bilek, the experienced former Czech Republic manager, took charge earlier this year.

However, this was a Group I game that Scotland really could have done with taking maximum points from and probably should have as well.

There is little margin for error in international football and they will be doing very well to claim one of the two automatic qualifying spots available in a section that includes Belgium and Russia now.

McLeish named just one uncapped player in his starting line-up – Sheffield Wednesday defender Liam Palmer was preferred to Stephen O’Donnell of Kilmarnock at right back.

The 27-year-old, who qualifies to play for this country because his late grandmother hailed from Carluke, won eight caps for the under-21 team.

However, the Worksop-born player was a surprise name in the 27 man national squad last week and his inclusion in the XI was unexpected.

Aberdeen midfielder Graeme Shinnie, as expected, started at left-back in the absence of both captain Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney.

Elsewhere, Oli McBurnie of Swansea City got the nod to play up front ahead of Marc McNulty of Hibernian and his namesake Burke of Celtic.

Burke was, though, played wide on the left where he made an early impact, outsprinting his marker Temirlan Yerlanov and forcing his way into the Kazakhstan box in the fifth minute.

The £15 million man failed to pick out a team mate with a pass after reaching the goal line, but it was an encouraging moment nonetheless.

Just a minute later, though, Scotland fell behind. Alexander Merkel chipped over the head of Scott McKenna that sent Yuriy Pertsukh through one on one with Scotland goalkeeper Scott Bain.

The Astana forward brought the ball down on his right foot and rifled a sweet left foot shot into the top left corner to claim his first international goal.

The Scotland defenders appealed to assistant referee Milan Mihajiovic to raise his flag, but the Serbian’s arm remained down and television replays proved conclusively Pertsukh had been onside.

McLeish’s men fell further behind four minutes later and once again it was poor defending which was their undoing.

Yan Vorogovskiy managed to cut in from the right, steal ahead of Shinnie and get on the end of a pass from Islambek Kuat. The wing back’s first-time finish was a good one.

Shinnie played at left back during his time with Inverness Caledonian Thistle and has been used there by Aberdeen at times. But his lack of game time in the position of late showed.

Burke made two more good breaks down the left flank, but on both occasion his final ball was poor. Stuart Armstrong, too, got into the opposition area in the first-half and failed to pick out a team mate.

Scotland were lucky only to be two goals down at half-time. Celtic keeper Bain, playing in his first competitive international, tipped a long-range Islambek effort over his crossbar.

Bain’s opposite number Dmytro Nepohodov didn’t have a save to make during the opening 45 minutes.

There was no improvement in Scotland’s play at the back in the second-half – Kazakhstan forged further in ahead in the 51st minute.

Gafurzhan Suyumbayev floated the ball in to Baktiyor Zainutdinov and the Rostov man rose above McKenna and headed beyond Bain. Both the Scotland centre half and keeper should have done far better.

Scotland didn’t let their heads go down. A furious Callum McGregor, captain in the absence of Robertson and Tierney, screamed furiously at his team mates as the game restarted and they responded.

Armstrong and Forrest both forced saves from Nepohodov after being supplied by McBurnie and John McGinn respectively.

McLeish made a change in the 61st minute. He took off McBurnie, who had worked hard with limited service, and put on Johnny Russell. The Sporting Kansas City forward went to the right, Forrest switched to the left and Burke went up front.

Then in the 70th minute Scott McTominay of Manchester United took over from McGinn in central midfield.

And with nine minutes of regulation time remaining Marc McNulty of Hibernian came on for Forrest. That resulted in another switch. Burke went back to the left and McNulty into attack.

But the replacements made little difference.

Bain did well to deny Serikzhan Muzhikov in the 84th minute when the substitute got a diving header on target.

Scotland finished their Nations League campaign on a huge high last year by beating Albania away and Israel at home to top their section and clinch a Euro 2020 play-off spot.

That led to hopes they wouldn’t need to rely on that safety net and could progress to the finals without it.

But if they continue to perform as poorly as this and concede such soft goals in the months ahead then that will be their best chance of ending a wait to reach a major tournament that stretches back to France ’98.

Next up are San Marino in Serravalle on Sunday. A few of those involved in this abject display in Kazakhstan will have no complaints if they are dropped and others are given an opportunity.