Clarke needs con­so­la­tion from fi­nal qual­i­fiers af­ter Rus­sia re­verse

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Football - By Roddy Forsyth

Scot­land must be­ware any whizzbangs left over from Fire­works Night when they com­plete their Euro 2020 group stage qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign against Kaza­khstan at Ham­p­den Park next month. If the Scots’ nerves are once more frag­ile on Nov 19, a stray jump­ing jack is li­able to have them run­ning for cover to the dress­ing room like St Trinian’s girls hitch­ing up their skirts and squeal­ing at the glimpse of a mouse.

Steve Clarke has re­peat­edly spo­ken of the pos­i­tives he has iden­ti­fied when­ever his squad gather for train­ing, yet is patently con­founded by the loss of re­solve un­der pres­sure, wit­nessed in their three ap­pear­ances this sea­son.

Against Rus­sia at Ham­p­den Park last month, Scot­land led through John Mcginn’s first in­ter­na­tional goal, but in­ex­pli­ca­bly be­gan to play too deep and con­ceded the equaliser to Artem Dzyuba be­fore the break, on the way to a 2-1 de­feat.

Three days later, the 4-0 rout in­flicted by Bel­gium at Ham­p­den be­gan with the break­down of a Scot­land free-kick on the edge of the Bel­gian penalty area.

Af­ter a re­spectable first-half dis­play against Rus­sia in the Luzh­niki Sta­dium on Thurs­day, the de­fence crum­pled un­der the men­ace of Dzyuba, whose two goals were sup­ple­mented by Magomed Oz­doev and Alek­sandr Golovin.

“The play­ers seemed to lose heart very quickly, which is un­for­tu­nate be­cause we had done OK up to that point,” Clarke lamented, and added that his play­ers now had to “make sure this is the very, very bot­tom of the low­est”.

The Scots now have to quarry some de­gree of re­spectabil­ity from the re­main­ing fix­tures, at home to San Marino to­mor­row, fol­lowed by next month’s trip to Cyprus and the visit of Kaza­khstan, whose 3-0 vic­tory in As­tana in March rates as one of Scot­land’s worst re­sults.

Clarke must carry out con­sid­er­able re­me­dial work be­fore the Na­tions League play-offs in the spring, which of­fer a back­door en­try to the Euro 2020 fi­nals.

He has re­verted to four at the back in his five-match ten­ure, none of which has yielded a clean sheet. That will surely be ac­com­plished against a San Marino side, bot­tom of the Fifa rank­ings and with­out a goal in over two years.

If Clarke can also pre­vent Cyprus and Kaza­khstan from find­ing the net, a mod­icum of re­spectabil­ity will be re­stored.

Bad start: Steve Clarke has lost four of his first five games in charge of Scot­land

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