For the first time since taking over as Scotland manager, there are murmurs of discontent surrounding Steve Clarke. The euphoria of qualifying for their first major tournament in 23 years has evaporated.
The excitement of the Euro 2020 finals has disappeared and doubts are beginning to grow over the progress the Scottish national team has been making under Steve Clarke.
Scotland’s Progress Under Steve Clarke
Pressure Starting to Mount on Steve Clarke
Clarke deserves credit for guiding Scotland to their first major finals in 23 years. There are some who will say Scotland qualified for the Euros via the backdoor. Play-off wins against Israel and Serbia both on penalities and qualifying for the play-offs via the Nations League back up that argument.
However, that is not Clarke’s fault. He was brought in to guide Scotland through the Euros play-offs and achieved that objective. The SFA have confidence in him after giving Clarke a new contract until 2024. Guiding Scotland to the Euros obviously played a part in the SFA head honchos giving Clarke a new contract.
But there is growing scrutiny on whether Scotland are progressing under the former Kilmarnock boss. After that famous night in Belgrade, Scotland have just two wins in ten competitive games, coming against Moldova and the Faroe Islands.
The performance against Denmark last week was disappointing, to say the least. In particular, the first-half display, which was the worst since Steve Clarke took over as Scotland boss. There was poor defending for both of Denmark’s goals and a lack of threat up front where Scotland failed to have a shot in the first half. They improved in the second half but the game was already gone.
More worrying was the fact that Clarke got his tactics spectacularly wrong against Denmark. With no recognised right-back due to injuries and Covid issues, Clarke deployed Andy Robertson in an unfamiliar role for the Liverpool defender. It meant that Robertson wasn’t as big a threat going forward.
Also, Clarke decided to leave out Lyndon Dykes from his starting line-up against Denmark. This left Scotland without a physical presence up front and someone who was able to bring the ball down and allow the midfield to push forward. Time and time again Scotland would punt the ball long and it would be easily dealt with by Denmark’s defence. Following the Euros, Clarke said he had learned a lot, but the way he set up Scotland against Denmark suggests that wasn’t the case.
Same Problems Show up Against Moldova
Scotland got an important three points against Moldova on Saturday night which helped keep their hopes of a play-off spot alive. However, the 1-0 win against limited opposition showed up a familiar problem in recent months. During the Euros, Scotland had an incredible 41 shots in three group games but managed just one goal.
Against Moldova, they had 16 shots on goal but yet again managed just one goal. In the last five competitive games, Scotland has scored just two goals.
The good thing is they are creating chances but if Scotland are to qualify for the World Cup finals, they simply have to start taking them.
Steve Clarke Needs to Prove a Point
When Steve Clarke was named Scotland boss in 2019, he was a popular choice amongst the majority of fans and media alike. He had just guided Kilmarnock from the relegation zone of the Scottish Premiership to a third-place finish during his time in charge. He also guided West Bromwich Albion to their best-ever finish in the Premier League when he led them to eighth in 2013.
However, his record as Scotland boss is hardly a stellar one. Yes, qualifying for the European Championships and becoming the first Scotland boss to guide his nation to a major tournament since Craig Brown in 1998, does give him plenty of credit in the bank.
But Clarke has won just nine of his 21 competitive games in charge over 90 minutes. His wins have come against Cyprus twice, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Czech Republic twice, Faroe Islands and Moldova. It is worth pointing out that one of those wins against the Czech Republic was effectively a Czech B team after their first-team squad were decimated by Covid.
Away from home, it has been abysmal under Steve Clarke, with just two wins in nine games, one of which was the victory against the Czech B team. Clarke and his Scotland side need to show they can win away from home. Tuesday’s match against Austria is simply a must-win if Scotland are to qualify for the World Cup play-offs. It is also an opportunity to knock Austria out of play-off contention after they lost to Israel 5-2 on Saturday.
Huge Performance Needed from Scotland in Vienna
The manager needs to get his tactics right as he did on that famous night in Belgrade. There are a number of big selection calls to make. Does he go with Nathan Patterson or Stephen O’Donnell at right-back? Does Kieran Tierney play at centre-back? Who will the midfield three be? Will Clarke go with two up front in Vienna?
This is a pivotal moment for Steve Clarke’s Scotland tenure. Defeat on Tuesday and the World Cup dream is effectively over. Win and Scotland’s play-off destiny is in their own hands.
It is time for Scotland to stand up and be counted. It is time for Steve Clarke to silence his doubters.