Scottish Daily Mail

Clarke’s men now have a reassuring stamp of quality


THE Steve Clarke era began with an edgy late win over Cyprus at Hampden. It continues, four years later, with another qualifier against the same opponents. And a strong show of support in the manager’s ability to nurse Scotland back to another major finals via a contract extension until 2026. This all feels very different to the last time the Scots kicked off a Euro qualifying campaign.

A 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan was the worst result in their history. A defeat so hideous that there was no way back for Alex McLeish.

Steering the national team to the Euros via a Nations League play-off, Clarke not only steadied the ship. He also placed a different kind of target on his back. The Tartan Army now expect the team to reach the major championsh­ips. Demand it, even.

Amongst fans of one or two clubs, news of Clarke’s new contract extension will go down almost as badly as that £90 price tag for the new replica shirt.

Four years since Oli Burke’s last-minute goal began the Clarke era with an underwhelm­ing win, however, Scotland are a different team.

Stephen O’Donnell, Charlie Mulgrew and Scott McKenna forged three quarters of the back line that night. The front three were James Forrest, Ryan Fraser and Eamonn Brophy.

From that starting XI in 2019, only Andy Robertson, Callum McGregor and John McGinn are likely to make the cut today. And while key players like Kieran Tierney and Scott McTominay struggle to get a start for their clubs, there’s a reassuring stamp of quality through the team.

On the eve of a new campaign, the SFA have sent out a pretty bold message. Steve Clarke will be manager of Scotland as long as he wants to be. He’ll surely reward that support with points and no repeat of that Kazakhstan fiasco.

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