Gordon Strachan was made fully aware of the scale of his task against a coherent Wales side that deserved their victory
After 85 seconds things could only get better for Gordon Strachan but they barely did. In his first competitive match as Scotland's manager he watched his star striker Steven Fletcher crumple in a heap on the Hampden Park turf. Fletcher left the field on a stretcher moments later, his ankle buckled, with groans over his misfortune as audible at relegation-threatened Sunderland as in Glasgow. He will return to Wearside for a full injury assessment.
"We were nervous at the start," Strachan said. "I think Steven's injury spooked the players a bit. He landed awkwardly from quite a height."
Strachan's own immediate challenge is not only to handle Fletcher's absence for Tuesday night's game in Serbia but also to restore some Scottish hope. They started evening rock bottom of Group A and remain there, Wales departing with three points few could argue they had not deserved despite Scotland earning a half-time lead.
"I am hugely disappointed," Strachan admitted. "And hugely disappointed for the players. It is hard to take, hard that we have to take a defeat. But it was our fault that we didn't win the game. One-nil kind of flattered us but from there you have to score a second one. We didn't do that and we had chances to do it. This isn't a good period for us but we will experiment now and find out what works best for us."
Indeed Scotland broke down in the first steps of their supposed road to Rio before Strachan was appointed; lifting national spirits and preparing his team for a Euro 2016 bid are far more plausible for the 56-year-old than overhauling Croatia and Belgium. With two points from five games, this campaign has already taken on a historic dimension, and not in a positive sense.
Strachan's pre-match message hinted at his team selection. On Thursday the manager admitted his concern at the number of players within his squad who are failing to command regular starting places at their clubs. Strachan left out Charlie Adam and Christophe Berra from his team; Grant Hanley was handed a first competitive start for Scotland in place of the latter at centre-back. Like so many of his team-mates Hanley struggled badly for long spells.
The Scots were outpassed and outclassed in the opening stages by a Wales side who simply looked far more coherent than their hosts. Strachan, understandably, cut an agitated and animated touchline figure. "We had passers out there who didn't pass the ball well," said the Scotland manager.
It took 22 minutes for Scotland to create a chance with Kenny Miller, Fletcher's replacement, wasting it. If there was a crumb of home hope to be derived from that, it was the proof that Wales could be defensively vulnerable.
That traumatic first-half spell for Scotland endorsed the opinions of those who had criticised the sacking of Strachan's predecessor, Craig Levein. Their belief is that Scottish players are simply lacking the quality to compete properly at international level, something which will not change whoever the manager is.
What Strachan already has in common with Levein is a shortage of midfield resources. The long-term absence of Darren Fletcher, coupled with the injury woes of Scott Brown, mean Scotland do not possess players with the physicality and pace to shield their defence. That back line, too, is clearly weak.
It is, however, often better to be lucky than good. Scotland claimed an interval lead they did not deserve through Hanley, who was allowed to head a Charlie Mulgrew corner past Boaz Myhill. Wales were entitled to their sense of bewilderment, but it must be recognised that they had failed to endorse their superiority by creating a series of scoring opportunities.
Strachan's next break arrived by virtue of Gareth Bale's non-appearance for the second period. The Wales midfielder, who had been toiling because of an ankle injury and virus, has previous for damaging Scotland.
That was to prove the final moment to raise Scottish spirits. Robert Snodgrass undermined his team's advantage with a crazy tackle to give away a penalty. Just over a minute later Wales had moved in front against a Scotland team lacking the guile to haul them back.
By full-time it was new era, familiar result, familiar boos.
"Yes," answered Strachan when asked if he faced a sizeable task in lifting his players for Serbia. It was a predictable end to another depressing occasion.