Scotland v Israel: The Austin MacPhee Effect as Scots seek set-play improvement

Saturday night’s World Cup qualifier between Scotland and Israel will be the seventh time in the last three years that the countries have faced one another.
New Scotland coach Austin MacPhee (left) at Scotland training yesterday with Kieran Tierney (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)New Scotland coach Austin MacPhee (left) at Scotland training yesterday with Kieran Tierney (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
New Scotland coach Austin MacPhee (left) at Scotland training yesterday with Kieran Tierney (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Four of these recent clashes have been draws after 90 minutes, while the other two resulted in one apiece single-goal wins.

If there’s one thing that seems guaranteed this weekend is that the outcome will be tight. Fine margins are important in such scenarios, hence why having Austin MacPhee, the new Scotland coach, available is good timing.

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The former Hearts interim manager is now set-piece specialist at Aston Villa after a short spell in Denmark. The 41-year-old is already proving his worth on the training pitch with Scotland after his first training session back at Oriam, where he was based while at Hearts.

MacPhee missed last month’s games against Denmark, Moldova and Austria after he was struck down by Covid. He was introduced to the squad for the first time properly yesterday after being lured away from Northern Ireland in August by Steve Clarke.

Assistant manager John Carver has already been moved to describe MacPhee’s methods as “very impressive”. He is sure his recruitment will pay dividends in the remaining matches in Group F.

“I’m not big on stats but I’m almost certain when you’re looking at World Cup Finals and European Championships, the games that are so tight are usually decided by a set play,” said Caver. “I think the stats are quite high.

“So that’s why Steve looked at the whole situation and realised we need a specialist to come in. Austin did a little bit with the players this morning which was very, very impressive I have to say.

“We’re hoping that’s going to give us the edge. It might be in the Israel game, it might be in the Faroe Islands game or in the two after that - we don’t know. But we’re always looking to freshen things up, always looking for an edge.

“The good thing is we’ve been creating a lot of chances,” he added. “I know we don’t score a lot of goals at this moment in time but we do create chances. We just have to convert them.

“We’ve got one or two ideas - Austin is a set-play specialist who has done a great job at Aston Villa. They’ve scored from a number of set plays, which is something, in fairness, we’ve not been great at. So that might give us an edge on Saturday.”

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Carver hoped Clarke’s critics now feel sufficiently foolish after Scotland’s 1-0 win over Austria in their last outing. It was their second successive win following a 2-0 defeat to Denmark that put the spotlight back on the manager.

“I find it hard to understand how people can criticise him and I’ve been in this game a long, long time,” said Carver.

“We’ve got to one major tournament after so many years and we’re on the verge of giving ourselves another opportunity. Let’s face it, when the draw came out and you saw Denmark, Austria and to a lesser extent Israel, you’re thinking to yourself: ‘If we can get second place that would be remarkable’.

“But we’re now in the position where it’s in our hands which is why I find the criticism a little bit strange.”

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