A MATCH against Albania gave Alex McLeish the highlight of his second spell as Scotland manager to date last month.

The 2-0 win at Hampden was the perfect start to a Nations League campaign that offers group winners the chance of a Euro 2020 play-off place.

But could a meeting with the same opposition in little over four weeks’ time be the nadir?

Might it, in fact, be the end?

That McLeish is attempting to blood younger players after yet another failed qualification campaign has not spared the national team head coach from scathing criticism after poor displays and bad results.

He is well aware what the reaction among supporters will be to a defeat or even a draw in the Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder will be.

To avoid that fate, he will require his charges to, despite their lack of international experience, defend far more robustly than they did against Portugal at Hampden last night.

As had been the case in the friendly against Belgium last month, Scotland were the orchestrators of their own downfall with their unforced errors at the back.

“We have shot ourselves in the foot against the two top teams, Belgium and Portugal, with the basic mistakes that we made,” said McLeish.

“That’s the disappointing aspect of it. You expect the top teams to cut through you with the some majestic skill and leave you trailing, but we were the perpetrators of our own mistakes.

“I thought we played well, I thought there was a lot of good football. We had a good game plan, the structure was compact, we pressed when we had a chance to press, we tried to stay high on the goal kicks.

“But we knew we were up against top class players. I know there was a lot of Portugal players rested but there was still a lot of money on the pitch.”

There was no Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Pepe or Bernando Silva in the visitors’ line-up.

Fernando Santos, though, still had some quality individuals who ply their trade at a high level across Europe at the likes of Benfica, Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, RB Leipzig, Southampton, Sporting Lisbon, Wolves and Zenit Saint Petersburg in his experimental team.

The Euro 2016 winners may have lacked the star quality that those in the disappointing 19,684-strong crowd had hoped to see when they bought their tickets, but their athleticism, technical ability, football intelligence and even, at times, cynicism, was apparent in their play.

Not even a move from the much-critticised three man rearguard to a back four helped Scotland – who fielded, in the absence of the injured Charlie Mulgrew, Jack Hendry of Celtic and Scott McKenna of Aberdeen at centre half – keep their opponents at bay.

It took until four minutes before half-time for Portugal to edge in front.

Kevin Rodrigues was given a ridiculous amount of time and space on the left before cutting the ball back into the Scotland six yard box. Helder Costa stole in front of Andy Robertson and prodded past Craig Gordon and over the goal line.

However, only a combination of poor finishing and good Gordon goalkeeping had kept the scoreline level up until that point.

McLeish’s men, no doubt after a few choice words from their manager, started the second half positively. McKenna then went agonisingly close after meeting a John McGinn corner into the Portugal area with a diving header.

But Portugal went further in front at a free-kick in the 74th minute. Substitute Renato Sanches floated the ball into the Scotland box and Eder lost his marker Stephen O’Donnell and nodded confidently into the top right corner.

Graeme Shinnie replaced McGinn and his Aberdeen team mate Gary Mackay-Steven took over from Oliver McBurnie in the closing stages while Stuart Armstrong made way for Kevin McDonald in the closing stages

Bruma, the Leipzig winger who will square up to Celtic in a Europa League match in Germany next week, made it three in the 84th minute after receiving the ball from Gedson Fernandes, cutting inside Shinnie and drilling into the top right corner.

McLeish has been in the position the likes of Hendry, McKenna, O’Donnell find themselves in – suddenly trying to cope with international football against a far better standard of opponent than they are used to with their club sides - himself in the past.

“There are young players there, a lot of them are learning the trade, some of them have come in during the summer when we had to go for new recruits,” he said. “It’s not easy to get guys to come in and be top internationals within three or four caps.”

Ultimately, though, McLeish will be judged on results. He will hope those aforementioned players and others learn from this difficult evening and those which have preceded it. Failure to do so could have dire consequences for him.

Mackay-Steven did well to back heel the ball to Steven Naismith in the third minute of injury-time and tee up a chance which his team mate gratefully buried.

Naismith could win his 50th cap for his country and a place in the Hall of Fame if he is selected to face Albania next month - but that outing could prove to be a forgettable rather than memorable experience.