THERE is a cruel irony that the apparent “easy start” to Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign will likely now cost Alex McLeish his job.

After the catastrophe in Kazahkstan, McLeish needed the immediate chance to prove it was just a blip, a very, very bad night at the office. Perhaps if the fixture list had thrown up a trip away to Belgium or Russia this evening then the beleaguered boss could have found instant redemption. A battling draw in Brussels or a plucky win in Moscow would have quickly straightened this listing ship.

But, no. Instead, it is San Marino, statistically the worst-ranked team in the world, who lie in wait for Scotland. And where once it would have been seen as a great opportunity to bolster confidence by grabbing goals like looters stockpiling bread and milk after a no-deal Brexit, instead it has become the ultimate no-win scenario. A 6-0, 7-0, 10-0 victory; there is no scoreline big enough in this scenario that ought to keep the manager in a job.

Whether Thursday night’s 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan ranks as the worst in Scotland’s history will fuel bar-room debates for some time to come. What can be said with greater conviction is that it effectively ends any prospects of Scotland gaining automatic qualification for next summer’s European Championships. Even with a play-off place already in the bag, falling once again at the first hurdle ought to have consequences.

McLeish’s appointment was hardly a populist move to start with and there won’t be too many rushing to Hampden Park in protest should Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell and president Alan McRae decide to bring his second time in charge to an abrupt end. The Scottish FA board may act with their commercial heads on; as things stand it is difficult to see the crowd for June’s home game with Cyprus even getting close to 20,000.

The hope that Nations League success was a turning point rather than an outlier sadly proved not to be the case. In mitigation, McLeish’s task in Kazakhstan was made more difficult by the number of call-offs that forced him to field an unfamiliar side. A closed roof, an artificial pitch and the six-hour time difference did not help Scotland’s cause either. What was most galling, however, was the sheer insipid nature of the display and McLeish’s inability to galvanise his players when they still had so much of the game in which to turn things around. That alone shows a change is necessary.

The timing of it carries an intrigue of its own. McRae, a genial fellow if hardly a great moderniser, has made great play about his close friendship with McLeish and will surely be reluctant to be the one that pulls the trigger. His presidency is up in the summer at which point he will be succeeded by Rod Petrie, the Hibs chairman, who may not be quite as blinded by nostalgia, even though he was on the Easter Road board when McLeish was manager there.

McRae might be happier to do the deed if it meant the return of Gordon Strachan, another old Pittodrie pal. Remarkably, Strachan was made immediate favourite with some bookmakers to replace McLeish as the dust settled on the calamity in Kazakhstan.

The failings of his successor, however, shouldn’t precipitate a misty-eyed reimagining of the Strachan era. He may not have endured anything as embarrassing as what unfolded at the Astana Arena but there were still more than a few wretched outings suffered on his watch including back-to-back 3-0 defeats against Slovakia and England, and failing to beat Slovenia with a half-time lead and a World Cup play-off place up for grabs. There shouldn’t be an unseemly rush to re-appoint Strachan, assuming he would even be remotely interested in returning in the first place.

Instead, the Scottish FA should instigate a thorough and professional recruitment search to find their man. Assuming their budget won’t stretch to an international coach with a proven record of reaching major tournaments, then the next best thing would be to go to the opposite end of the scale to find a young manager coursing with ambition and ability. And that manager ought to be Jack Ross.

It may seem a risky appointment of a man who, just two-and-a-half years ago, was still coaching Alloa Athletic in League One, but Ross’ career has enjoyed a steady upwards trajectory ever since. Saving St Mirren from relegation and then winning the Championship a season later shows his ability to bring the best out of confidence-shorn players, something that Scotland could really do with right now.

His decision not to stay with St Mirren in the Premiership but instead take a chance on a move to Sunderland underlines his ambition. The League One club may be closing in on a return to the Championship under Ross’ stewardship but he has already shown he is not someone who will hang around if a more lucrative or appealing opportunity crops up. With Scotland not playing again until June after today, Ross could even see out the season with Sunderland before moving back north.

At 42 years old, he would be considered young for international football but his coaching and man-management skills make him an ideal man for the post. He may now watch this evening’s game against San Marino with added interest. Sadly he will be among the few.