Five things we learned from Russia 4 - 0 Scotland

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Analysis after Steve Clarke's men suffered another heavy defeat in their European Championships campaign, going down 4-0 to Russia in Moscow.

John Fleck was decent

John Fleck battles for possession during Scotland's match with Russia.

John Fleck battles for possession during Scotland's match with Russia.

Let's start with the positive - because it's the only one. John Fleck made his international debut at the base of midfield and he is one of few Scotland players who can look himself in the mirror and be happy with his performance. The Sheffield United man was composed in possession, regularly found teammates, got stuck in on the defensive side and generally looked like he believed that he belonged to be on that stage, which is something you cannot say for many others in dark blue.

It's tempting to make a joke that, but of course, we've uncovered another good centre-midfielder when our squad is bursting with them. But while there's plenty of options for the No.8 and No.10 roles, there isn't quite the same plethora for the position sitting in front of the back four. Having Fleck as another option alongside Scott McTominay and Kenny McLean does us no harm at all.

We may have hit our new selection nadir

Michael Devlin getting called up to the Scotland squad wasn't particularly surprising or alarming this time last season. The former Hamilton Accies defender had started the campaign in superb form for Aberdeen and was outperforming Scott McKenna, who had already made himself something of an automatic selection under previous boss Alex McLeish. But a year is a long time in football. Devlin's once-promising 2018/19 campaign was wrecked by injury and he's not started this season well at all.

Last Saturday he sat on the bench as his side drew with Aberdeen, sitting behind McKenna and fellow Scot Andrew Considine in the pecking order. This isn't even a particularly good Aberdeen side in a Ladbrokes Premiership table that, outside the top two, isn't particularly strong this campaign. And yet their third choice central defender started away to a side that found themselves among the top eight of countries in world football last summer.

It's probably harsh to single out the centre-half because, based on tonight's performance, if we're lining up players to vilify, he'd probably be somewhere near the back of the queue. But his presence, along with the half-time substitution which saw a Scottish Championship striker introduced into the fray, did highlight just how desperate we are for talent in certain positions.

This team is gutless

This team has no intestinal fortitude whatsoever. They may have it as individuals at club level, and in some cases a healthy amount of it, but they continually fail to bring it on international breaks. Time and again they concede and immediately go to pieces. With 57 minutes on the clock in Moscow they were in a decent position. Thirteen minutes later they were well on the road to another embarrassment in a group campaign chock full of them.

It's not just in a defensive sense where this team is softer than a memory-foam pillow. In possession they seem to have little to no confidence in anything they are about to do. Robert Snodgrass' inclusion was probably based around the fact he's just about the only player with a gallus attitude. It's just a shame he's coming to the end of his career because this squad is sorely lacking in big characters to help the collective come through tough situations.

A lack of consistency in selection is surely an issue

In the four games since his first match against Cyprus, Steve Clarke has made 21 changes to his starting XI. Six of those were made for the trip to Russia. This is a marked contrast from what we learned to expect from the manager when he was in charge of Kilmarnock, when you knew exactly who would be lining up for the Rugby Park side. It worked to their advantage as they quickly became a well-oiled machine. There has been nothing like that with Scotland thus far.

While injuries have played a significant part, it is the sign of a manager who has little to no idea yet what his strongest starting XI is. That is fairly obvious. Results haven't been great so you expect changes until the winning formula is uncovered.

However, it could easily work the other way. Without consistency in selection it may become increasingly difficult to find that elusive formula. With only three games remaining in the group he's running out of time to find his best line-up and to get those players comfortable performing with each other.

Our biggest and brightest need to stand up

John McGinn, Ryan Fraser and Andrew Robertson. What do they all have in common? If you'd said they're all English Premier League calibre talents you'd be wrong. Or, at least, you'd be wrong if you wanted to apply such a statement in a Scotland context. Our brightest starts continue to marvel their club supporters, who worship the ground they walk on. Once they pull on the dark blue kit, though, they look as if they'd struggle to get a game at Tynecastle.

The match in Moscow was another example of our best players failing to come anywhere close to living up to their reputation as club players. There are issues with the squad, which we've already touched upon, but surely it's not so much of a house-of-cards scenario that the deficiencies up front and at centre-back make our right winger play well below his typical standard.

It would appear there is a cloud of negativity hanging over the entire set-up, something which wasn't immediately shifted when Clarke replaced Alex McLeish as manager. The good news is that, in San Marino, Cyprus and Kazakhstan, even a Scotland side as bereft of confidence as this one has an opportunity to finish the group with three consecutive victories and take some momentum into the Nations League matches next year.

It's deeply troubling that the last sentence sounds almost fanciful in its optimism.