Clarke needs consolation from final qualifiers after Russia reverse
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