THE fact a place in international football is reserved for San Marino really is a nonsense. In 155 previous attempts, this quaint little republic with a population the size of Motherwell had avoided defeat just five times and tasted just a solitary victory, a 1-0 friendly win against Liechtenstein in 2004. Come to think of it, a Motherwell select could realistically expect a greater strike rate.

Having said all that, no-one was more grateful for the existence of this little enclaved microstate yesterday than Alex McLeish and Scotland. After the trauma of Thursday in Kazakhstan, our national team were back in their comfort zone yesterday, proving that if anyone can be trusted to eke out an underwhelming 2-0 victory against the worst team in world football, it is them. Who says we can’t still mix it with the also rans of the game?

Even for a grizzled veteran for McLeish, some of the patterns of international football must be perplexing. Having sat with their feet up as Scotland sustained possibly irreparable damage to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in Kazakhstan on Thursday afternoon, the national team manager had the luxury of welcoming some of the big guns back in for this glorified training match against the worst team on the planet. Mind you, the pre-match mood wasn’t exactly helped by a four-nil win for Russia in Kazakhstan which put our lamentable efforts there thoroughly in perspective.

Captain Andy Robertson was back after some emergency dental work, no doubt gnashing his teeth at being unable to influence the calamity in Kazakhstan. So too were Ryan Fraser and Callum Paterson, two young men operating at a good level in the FA Premier League, who either weren’t prepared - or weren’t allowed – to risk that on the artificial pitch at the Astana Arena. Ironically perhaps, Paterson - deployed as a target man – went off injured with an ankle injury after landing awkwardly on the grass of Serravalle.

There were six changes in all, with James Forrest and the Olivers Burke and McBurnie among those unceremoniously dumped to the bench. Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell reclaimed the right back spot which he inexplicably lost to Liam Palmer in midweek.

The outcome ultimately reverted to Scotland’s usual type – our three previous visits to this picturesque wee ground have also harvested 2-0 wins – but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few changes from the norm.

For starters, instead of the usual catalogue of missed chances, it took us just four minutes to break the deadlock. Kenny McLean’s first goal for his country, on the occasion of his first competitive start, was a clever flicked header after Callum McGregor and Fraser had worked a quick corner kick.

As might be expected for a player showing well pretty much every week at a team flying high at the top of Championship, the Norwich City man did his cause no harm at all here.

These were opponents who hadn’t scored a goal at home since 2013, so we really shouldn’t have worried unduly about them scoring an equaliser. But this is Scotland. Of course we did.

Filippo Berardi, the Torino player who is one of just two professionals in the San Marino team, played in Adolfo Hirsch, who rounded Scott Bain but pushed himself too wide to do anything but hit the side-netting.

If there was kudos for Bain on that occasion for giving his opponent no chance to throw himself to the ground, there were a couple of anxious looks at the referee during the second period when Berardi attempted to win a penalty from Scott McKenna.

A goal up in four minutes or not, the floodgates resolutely refused to open. While Scotland popped the ball around like a keep ball session or attack against defence, sadly it was par for the course that it should take another 70 minutes to elapse before the clinching second goal to arrive. Johnny Russell capped a decent individual showing by calmly stepping to his right and blasting the ball into the net with his wrong foot.

Given the standard of opposition, it was hard to draw too much in the way of hard and fast conclusions about McLeish’s strongest team, but there were at least a few things that seemed worth stating for the record. In addition to the efforts of McLean and Russell, Stuart Armstrong - for the second time in four days one of Scotland’s best players – was defied twice by Elia Benedettini.

And Marc McNulty of Hibs – responsible for a clever dummy in the lead-up to that second goal - really should have helped himself to his first goal for his country, missing a simple header from close range, then seeing Benedettini touch his finish over the bar. Forrest gave us an extra dimension on the right when he eventually arrived on that flank from the bench.

It will,of course, take more than a 2-0 win against the 211th and last team on the Fifa ladder to ease the pressure which is building on Alex McLeish. Germany managed eight goals here on their last visit, Norway seven, England six and even little Luxemourg took three. But then even a 10-0 win - as nice as that would have been - wouldn’t exactly have been able to take everyone’s minds off our Kazakh calamity either.

So what else was different yesterday? Just perhaps, after 20 years of failing to make major competitions, the Tartan Army’s patience is starting to wear thin with all this.

The final whistle was met with a mixture of muted applause and jeers from the travelling support, with chants of ‘Sack the Board’ and ‘F*** the SFA’ clearly audible during the play.

No, it will take something special for Scotland to shrug off the ignominy of Nursultan, and give everyone the impression that this team is heading in the right direction. Cyprus visit Hampden in June and then it is the small matter of Belgium away. Scotland still have those Nations League play-offs in our back pocket come the March of next year, but right now Euro 2020 seems a long way off.