The Scotsman

Just one clean sheet in ten games sug­gests there’s no case for Clarke’s de­fence

- Stephen Hal­l­i­day Sports · Soccer · UEFA · Czech Republic · Olomouc · Kilmarnock F.C. · Kilmarnock · San Marino · Israel · Kieran Tierney · Manchester United F.C. · Manchester · Prague · SK Slavia Praha · Leeds United A.F.C. · Leeds · Marcelo Bielsa · Mohamed Salah · Sadio Mané · Andrew Robertson · Steve Clarke

If Steve Clarke hopes to ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tives of the past few days from his per­spec­tive, he can point to an early lead at the top of Uefa Na­tions League Group B2 and the emer­gence of Lyn­don Dykes as a No 9 who looks to have a big fu­ture with Scot­land.

But while Dykes’ first goal for his coun­try helped Clarke’s side come from be­hind to de­feat a shadow Czech Repub­lic out­fit in Olo­mouc, de­fi­cien­cies else­where are im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore and raise ma­jor doubts about the prospects of suc­cess in the Euro 2020 play-offs later this year.

Clarke may have un­earthed a new cen­tral striker of gen­uine prom­ise in the shape of Dykes but the other end of the pitch re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant area of con­cern for Scot­land.

Hav­ing built his suc­cess­ful ten­ure at Kil­marnock on a bedrock of de­fen­sive so­lid­ity, Clarke is strug­gling to repli­cate that for­mula at in­ter­na­tional level.

In his 10 games as Scot­land boss, he has over­seen just one clean sheet which came against peren­nial whip­ping boys San Marino.

The goal scored by Jakub Pe­sek for the hastily as­sem­bled Czech side after just 11 min­utes was the 18th con­ceded by Scot­land on Clarke’s watch so far. Given the cir­cum­stances of this con­test, it was per­haps the most painful one yet.

The de­ci­sion to per­sist with a back three after Fri­day night’s 1-1 draw at home to Is­rael, with Liam Cooper com­ing in to re­place Kieran Tier­ney along­side Scott Mckenna and Scott Mc­tom­i­nay, was an in­di­ca­tion of Clarke’s be­lief it is a sys­tem which can work well for his squad.

But it’s dif­fi­cult to see how that can be the case when de­ploy­ing per­son­nel who are so clearly and un­com­fort­ably out of po­si­tion, as was the case with Mc­tom­i­nay. The Manch­ester United mid­fielder is ad­mirably will­ing to play wher­ever he is asked but was caught out badly when the Czechs took the lead.

Slavia Prague for­ward Stanislav Tecl, one of only two play­ers in the hosts’ start­ing line-up with pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence at full in­ter­na­tional level, de­served credit for the per­fectly weighted pass which split the Scots’ de­fence but Mc­tom­i­nay was flat-footed as Pe­sek nipped in to beat David Mar­shall with a com­posed fin­ish.

Leeds United cap­tain Cooper, win­ning just his third cap for Scot­land at the age of 29, made a cou­ple of timely and de­ci­sive tack­les as the vis­i­tors tried to sub­due an ea­ger and lively Czech side.

Ac­cus­tomed to play­ing in a back four un­der master tac­ti­cian Marcelo Bielsa at his club side, Cooper should be ready to nail down a reg­u­lar place in the Scot­land start­ing line-up in a sea­son when he will be test­ing him­self against some of the world’s finest at­tack­ing tal­ents in the English Pre­mier League on a weekly ba­sis.

Ahead of fac­ing the likes of

Mo­hamed Salah and Sa­dio Mane at An­field on Satur­day night when Leeds will make their top flight re­turn, Cooper had more to oc­cupy him than he might have ex­pected against the Czechs.

Even after Dykes had drawn Scot­land level with a fine first time fin­ish from Liam Palmer’s low cross, Clarke’s side re­mained careless in pos­ses­sion and, sub­se­quently, far too ex­posed at the back.

As they lived dan­ger­ously, Jaroslav Ze­leny saw a shot blocked by Palmer be­fore Mar­shall made a fine save to deny Adam Janos.

Scot­land ought to have seized full con­trol of the con­test after Ryan Christie con­verted his sec­ond penalty in suc­ces­sive matches after Dutch ref­eree Ser­dar Gozubuyuk deemed To­mas Malin­sky as the sin­ner in a tus­sle with Andy Robert­son.

But the Scots were any­thing but com­fort­able with their scarcely mer­ited lead. Marek Hav­lik scraped the out­side of Mar­shall’s right­hand post from a free-kick and, as the ragged de­fend­ing con­tin­ued, Pe­sek forced a su­perb save from the keeper be­fore Tecl com­pletely fluffed his lines from the re­bound with the goal gap­ing.

Sub­sti­tute An­tonin Rusek hit a post with a late header as the Czechs kept Scot­land hemmed in on a fraught evening for Clarke, one which has given him much to pon­der.

It’s dif­fi­cult to see how a back three works when play­ers are so clearly and un­com­fort­ably out of po­si­tion

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? 0 Scot­land de­fender Liam Cooper slides in on Adam Karabec.
0 Scot­land de­fender Liam Cooper slides in on Adam Karabec.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK