Why Ryan Porteous got special hug from Scotland boss after win over Cyprus - 'it tells everyone what we're about'
It wasn’t even the bit of quick thinking from Che Adams that set Scotland on the way to their opener after the Southampton striker's swiftly-taken throw-in down the line to Andy Robertson.
It was why Ryan Porteous was the recipient of a great big bear hug from the manager as he walked off the park at the end. The former Hibs player had after all scored the second goal to get off the mark for his country. He was entitled to expect some gratitude as well as praise from his manager.
As well executed as it might have been for a centre-half whose last goal came against Sunderland for Watford last season, the goal was second in the list of reasons why Clarke – not known for outward displays of emotion – reserved such special treatment for the centre half (most of Porteous's teammates simply got a brisk handshake, seemingly designed to press home the management mantra of 'we're not there yet').
The defender's big moment, bigger, even, than his 16th minute goal, occurred in the dying seconds. Most Scotland fans had stopped following the game by this point to sing chorus after chorus about going to Ger-man-eeee. Indeed, many had given up even trying to focus, with a long day’s imbibing in the searing heat finally catching up with them.
On the pitch, meanwhile, there was still some work to do. This redoubtable son of Dalkeith hadn’t clocked off. Porteous was still frantically trying to preserve his side’s clean sheet.
Although he already had a goal to his name he recognised what he is in the team mainly to do, which is snuff out developing danger. In this instance, he was required to track back and whip the ball from the feet of the advancing substitute Ioannis Pittas. It was a goal-saving tackle, not dissimilar to the one he made on Oleksandr Zubkov in the final moments of his debut against Ukraine a year ago this month.
“For me? The best moment of the game,” said Clarke, as he picked over the bones of such a decisive win in Larnaca. "It tells everyone what we are about.
"We spoke at half time about maybe we can get the fourth, maybe we can get five," he continued. "But the most important thing, prevent Cyprus scoring. And that block at the end tells you everything about this team and the mentality they’ve got.
"I just love defending like that," he added. "It meant a lot to the whole team when Ryan made that tackle."
Such determination will stand Scotland in good stead ahead of England's visit on Tuesday. The so-called anniversary heritage match might not matter much in the grand scheme of things, although of course it still does.
Scotland can enjoy the occasion while keeping one eye on score updates from Norway against Georgia, where a share of the spoils will send Clarke’s side to Euro 2024 without kicking another ball in Group A.
“We’re playing England at Hampden and it’ll be a memorable occasion on the 150th anniversary,” said the manager. “I’m proud to be the head coach for such an important game against the boys from down the road."
Recent cross-border club clashes have not been kind to Scotland. A gulf in class directly linked to contrasting financial parameters has been exposed. At international level, where there is no transfer market, this ought not to be a factor. If not go quite toe-to-toe, Scotland in current form can expect to be more than just competitive.
Gareth Southgate will be wary of opposition in upbeat mood and with nothing to lose. Clarke is confident recent results will have been noted by the England management. How could that not be the case when one of them includes a 2-0 win over Spain? “They’ll respect us,” he said.
They may also exhibit some envy. England have an embarrassment of riches but they might be slightly covetous of a rampaging midfielder who is delivering Harry Kane-like numbers when it comes to goals.
Scott McTominay has become an irrepressible force for Scotland in recent months. It seems absurd to think that not so long ago Clarke felt it was necessary to play him in the back three to get him in the team. After six goals in five outings, the player Alex McLeish convinced to declare his loyalty to Scotland, the land of his father, rather than England, where he was born, has become one of the first names on Clarke’s team sheet.
This is in direct contrast to Manchester United, where he has only played only a handful of minutes for manager Erik ten Hag so far this season. As far as Clarke is concerned, McTominay is indispensable.
“I think he has been playing like that for a little while now,” said Clarke, when discussion turned to the midfielder's standout display against Cyprus. “With Scotty, we’ve been trying to find a way to play that can unleash him and John McGinn to get forward.
“It’s nice to have two ball players behind them in Billy (Gilmour) and Callum (McGregor) to control the game. It’s also nice to bring on the substitutes I bring on.
“But it’s good for Scott, if anyone needs to be reminded, and we don’t need reminded, to show he’s pretty decent. When you’re at one of the top clubs like Manchester United, they’re going to have a big squad and you know they are going to have a rotation.
“Sometimes you have to bide your time to get your chance in the team. At the moment, that’s what Scott has to do. And I’m sure that once he does get his chance he’ll show everybody he’s a good player for his club as well.”
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