The home side certainly had their chances in a wide-open encounter – mostly notably Steven Naismith missed a one-on-one in the second half – but Scotland keeper Allan McGregor had to make vital saves to keep his goal intact.
With Group A favourites Belgium seeing off Wales 2-0 in Cardiff and top seeds Croatia beating Macedonia 1-0 in Zagreb on Friday night, three points at home to Macedonia on Tuesday night are surely a must if Craig Levein’s side are to harbour realistic hopes of reaching Brazil in two years time.
There could be no faulting the effort of the Scotland side who had Huddersfield left-back Paul Dixon making his debut in the absence of injured Danny Fox, Russell Martin and Charlie Mulgrew.
Gary Caldwell captained the side in his 50th appearance, playing in front of the back four while veteran Kenny Miller was in as the lone striker, supported from the flanks by Robert Snodgrass and Naismith.
There were several familiar names in the Serbia side including captain and Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester City full-back Aleksandar Kolarov while the English champions’ new £12million signing, Matija Nastasic, was also included in the visitors’ defence.
Nevertheless, optimism abounded in Mount Florida with Hampden almost full to capacity.
The first real piece of action in a scrappy opening came in the eighth minute when McGregor made a fine save down at his right-hand post from Kolarov’s 25-yard free-kick which threatened to sneak in.
As the game warmed up Serbia survived an old-fashioned goalmouth scramble before almost catching the Scots on the break and indeed it was on the counter that the visitors promised to inflict some damage.
Scotland began to exert some pressure and in the 23rd minute, with Kolarov too busy arguing with the linesman after he had flagged a foul for his challenge on Snodgrass, the Norwich forward raced on to Charlie Adam’s quickly-taken free-kick before forcing Vladimir Stojkovic in to a decent save from his angled drive.
Moments later, Snodgrass picked up Caldwell’s short corner on the right but his cross to the back post just evaded the head of Naismith.
There was little in the way of penalty box action at either end until four minutes from the break when Adam capitalised on some slack Serbian defending to send Miller through on the right but the Vancouver Whitecaps striker screwed his attempted cross just over the bar.
There was time for Serbia striker Darko Lazovic to test McGregor with a drive from the edge of the box and at the other end, Adam’s chip from 16 yards following a Scotland break was plucked out of the air by Stojkovic.
The second half took time to get going from a Scotland perspective but in the 51st minute another half-chance went begging when defender Christophe Berra headed a Snodgrass corner from the right, sloppily conceded by Kolarov, wide of the target.
Serbia midfielder Aleksandar Ignjovski flashed a right-footed drive from 25 yards past McGregor’s left-hand post before Stojkovic had to be smart off his line to block Miller’s effort from close range.
The former Rangers and Celtic striker then misjudged a lobbed pass from James Morrison moments later when he was unmarked in the visitors’ box.
In the 62nd minute, in another Serbia break that opened up the home defence, Kolarov’s low drive had the Tartan Army holding its breath as the ball sped past the far post by inches.
Four minutes later the home side created and missed their best chance of the game.
With the Serbia defence far too square, Caldwell sent Naismith through with a perfectly-weighted pass but the Everton striker could not set himself correctly and his shot from 10 yards beat Stojkovic but bounced past the post.
James Forrest replaced Snodgrass to give Levein’s side some added impetus but the home fans began to grew restless, chanting for Blackburn Rovers’ new striker Jordan Rhodes to come on.
Their mood was not helped when Miller made a hash of an Adam free-kick, heading the ball harmlessly up in the air.
In the 80th minute, in a double substitution, Jamie Mackie replaced Morrison and Rhodes replaced Miller, to a huge cheer.
The final stages were fraught with McGregor making a crucial save from Serbia substitute Dusan Tadic seconds before the end of regulation time, before Stojkovic blocked Forrest’s angled drive at the other end as the home side mounted one last charge.
After all that, it was rather harsh for the home players to hear some boos ring out at the final whistle but there can be no hiding the fact that 2014 qualification hopes have taken a dent.