SCOTLAND’S Euro 2016 qualification hopes were dealt a damaging blow as Georgia earned a slender victory in the soaring heat in Tbilisi.
Valeri Qazaishvili’s first-half strike proved the difference as the hosts secured their first home win of the campaign.
An average Scotland could not record a shot on target or find any coherence as they failed to score for the first time in 13 internationals.
But the evident lack of a spark and creativity will disappoint boss Gordon Strachan as his team remain without an away win after being flustered in the 32 degree heat at the Dinamo Arena.
It could prove to be history repeating itself for the Scots, who suffered a 2-0 defeat on their only previous visit to the Georgian capital which effectively ended their chances of reaching Euro 2008.
With three games left to play, the Tartan Army slipped to fourth in Group D after being leapfrogged by the Republic of Ireland, who beat minnows Gibraltar 4-0 later in the evening ahead of hosting second-from-bottom Georgia at the AVIVA Stadium.
Strachan had made two changes from the 1-1 draw in Dublin in June with Andy Robertson and Ikechi Anya coming in on the left hand side for Craig Forsyth and Matt Ritchie while Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher was preferred to Celtic’s in-form frontman Leigh Griffiths in attack.
Georgia – currently 194th in the Fifa rankings – had lost their previous three qualifiers but showed from the outset just as they did in their 1-0 defeat at Ibrox last year that they would not be rolled over easily.
The hosts won the ball back at a fair rate of knots and broke quickly at pace without troubling Scotland, who were forced to be patient and disciplined but never settled into any stride.
Their only effort of the first half saw Fletcher – starting for the sixth international running – stab wide Robertson’s dangerous low cross as keeper Nukri Revishvili rushed off his goalline.
Georgia – already out of the running for France – played without pressure and an excellent drive from Qazaishvili gave them a deserved lead eight minutes before the break.
The midfielder collected Tornike Okriashvili’s knockdown with neat close control before dispatching a fine drive beyond David Marshall from 18 yards.
Okriashvili might have doubled their advantage soon after had the striker picked out his two team-mates in the middle rather than dithering at the byline.
The frustration was reaching boiling point as a dispirited Scotland lacked the energy and sharpness – with the attacking triumvirate of Anya, Steven Naismith and Shaun Maloney – to get in behind the Georgians.
Despite progressing further up the pitch, Scotland could not trouble the Georgian defence and keeper although Fletcher hitting the post from an offside position with a left-footed shot.
Strachan opted for a double change just before the hour as Celtic winger James Forrest and Blackburn defender Grant Hanley replaced Naismith and Robertson.
But the Eastern European hosts remained an attacking force to be reckoned with after the break and Levan Mchedlidze – who scored against Scotland in 2007 as a 17-year-old – forced Marshall into an excellent save from distance.
Midway through the second half, Fletcher summed up Scotland being stifled in the energy-sapping heat with a wayward shot. He was soon joined up front by Griffiths, who received his first competitive cap in two years in place of Watford’s Anya.
But Georgia still looked more likely to notch the all-important second goal as Jano Ananidze rifled a rasping effort into the side netting after a slaloming run into the Scotland penalty area.
The visitors dominated the closing stages and racked up a number of corners but toiled in their search for a decisive moment against the tall Georgian defence.
Substitute Hanley glanced a whipped Charlie Mulgrew delivery wide of the target and Maloney’s free-kick deflectedly narrowly over the crossbar.
Having failed to give the 2,000 Tartan Army fans anything to shout about, it meant Scotland’s best unbeaten run in 14 years came to an end and their hopes of finishing third in the play-off spot are out of their own hands.
A first defeat since their opening qualifier against Germany will leave Scotland fans wondering if the dream of a first major tournament since 1998 is nearly over as the nation prepares to welcome World Cup winners and new group leaders to Hampden Park on Monday.
Meanwhile Georgia’s first competitive home victory since September 2012 will delight new boss Kahkaber Tshkadadze, who took over from Temuri Ketsbaia last December.
Georgia had lost seven of their previous eight internationals and scored for just the second time competitively at home in three years.
Norwich defender Russell Martin is the only player to have featured in every minute of Scotland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign so far.
Gordon Strachan suffered just his fifth defeat in 13 competitive internationals in charge of Scotland.
Scotland last failed to score in the goalless draw with the USA at Hampden Park in a friendly two years ago.
It was only the third away defeat in the last 10 internationals for Scotland with the other two coming against England and Germany.
Substitutes: Merebashvili (on for Okriashvili 71′), Daushvili (on for Ananidze 82′) and Vatsadze (on for Mchedlidze 90+3′).
Not used: 1 Loria (GK), 13 Makaridze (GK), 6 Khizanishvili, 14 Tskhadadze, 16 Kvekveskiri, 17 Popkhadze, 18 Kenia, 19 Gvelesiani, 21 Kakabadze.
Booked: Kashia (9′), Ananidze (44′), Navalovski (78′).
Goals: Qazaishvili (37′)
Substitutes: Hanley (on for Robertson 59′), Forrest (on for Naismith 59′) and Griffiths (Anya 75′).
Not used: 12 Gordon (GK), 21 McGregor (GK), 13 Ritchie, 15 McArthur, 16 Whittaker, 18 Russell, 19 D Fletcher, 20 Greer, 22 C Martin.
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania) – 8/10
“We didn’t do enough to win it. I’ve just got to think that we’ve got three games left. I want to get as many points as possible.
“Of course I’m concerned after a defeat, no matter what the target is. So I’m not as happy a bunny as I was this morning but I’ve been there before.
“I’ve not changed my thought processes since it started and as I said sometimes it’s a bumpy ride to get where you want to go – had a bump tonight and we have to deal with that and I have every confidence in the players.”