Steve Clarke speaks on his chat with Gareth Southgate, Croatia and Scotland fans at Wembley

Rarely has a stalemate contained so many restorative properties.
Steve Clarke and Gareth Southgate at Wembley.Steve Clarke and Gareth Southgate at Wembley.
Steve Clarke and Gareth Southgate at Wembley.

Just a few days ago, all seemed doom and gloom with regards to Scotland Now Steve Clarke is aiming to lead his side into the history books.

“Nothing can come from nothing,” to quote King Lear. But something can spring from nothing-nothing. In Scotland’s case it is hope.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They can believe again ahead of their last Group D clash against Croatia at Hampden on Tuesday.

How many 0-0s draw have you gone straight home and sat through again? Not many I’d vouch. But the first goalless encounter between England and Scotland at Wembley since the fixture started to be played at the stadium almost demanded another viewing.

That’s what happened back in room 303 of a hotel room in Southwark.

A group of football writers, still wired to the moon after reporting on such a tense, dramatic night gathered in the early hours of the morning to watch pretty much every kick, every goalmouth stramash, all over again.

The action withstood repeat viewings, although that scramble at the end still caused some rising anxiety before John McGinn arrived to boot the ball to safety. No matter the number of replays, it still brought what the Scots needed – a point. The result saw pressure transfer from Clarke’s shoulders to those of his opposite number, Gareth Southgate.

Although Clarke obligingly provided reporters with some scraps of memories of past England v Scotland encounters in the run up to the clash, the manager clearly did not want to overwhelm his players with additional context. He knew there was enough hype surrounding the fixture. As far as he was concerned, Scotland required at least a point to maintain their hopes of qualifying. That it came against England was immaterial.

Southgate has been feeling the heat this weekend as English supporters and media alike express dismay at their lack of creativity against Scotland.

Clarke isn’t about to start sympathising with his opposite number; he covets what England already have, which is four points.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We had a little chat after the game, just normal football chat,” reported Clarke. “I prefer my private chats to stay private. I've known Gareth for a long time and he's a nice man. He's done a good job with England, he's got a good team there and I am sure they will be competitive all the way in the tournament.

“For us it was pleasing to get something out of the game but, to reiterate, it was to get something out of the game to give ourselves a chance going into the game on Tuesday.

“All our focus is now on that and trying to make sure we can create a little bit more history for the country.”

He will have started thinking about his team already ahead of Tuesday as well as his options – if there are options. Surely, if everyone is fit, he will select the same XI again, which means handing Billy Gilmour a second successive start and retaining Scott McTominay at right centre-back.

Clarke refused to give anything away. Croatia, he stressed, are a different proposition to England. He explained why he felt McTominay was needed in defence at Wembley.

"Circumstances are always going to change,” he said. “You change your team depending on opponents. In the first game, I felt we needed Scott's physicality in midfield and I think that proved to be the case.

“It was a very physical game against the Czech Republic. For this game, even though you look at England and think they would be on the front foot, they actually allow the opposition to have a little bit of possession at the back and then press you in the middle of the pitch because they have quick forwards and they like a little bit of space in behind the opposition defence.

“I hoped I could read their game plan and we would have a little bit more time and space on the ball at the back and that was how it turned out. That was pleasing.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

To progress, to secure that historic passage to the last 16, Scotland need to score at least one goal – their first of the tournament.

Clarke is not concerned that Craig Burley remains the last Scotland player to score in a major finals – 23 years ago. He maintains his side, particularly strikers Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams, have been unlucky in front of goal.

"If you look at the key chances in the game last night as an example, Stephen O'Donnell hit his shot very well,” he said. “It was probably the save of the match from (Jordan) Pickford down to his right and the little nuances you need is for that ball to spin up straight onto Che's head and he's nodding it into an empty goal. It was just a little bit too high.

“From their point of view a great save, from our point of view a bit unlucky it didn't fall for Che to nod in. Dykes' shot, I am not sure if it was going in, but six inches inside the post I don't think the full-back gets round to cover it and that's a goal.”

Clarke made a point of expressing his gratitude to the Scotland fans for their unstinting support at the end of the game.

Only 2,200 or so were supposed to have tickets but there were far more than that inside the stadium.

"It was important that we acknowledged the fans, they came down and the Scottish fans made a great noise in the stadium from the first minute to the last,” he said. “That was really important. When I went over towards the fans, I was actually looking for my grandson and I managed to see him in the crowd. That's who I was waving at. It was great to see him there.”

A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.