From World Cup high to hibernation - what's next for Steve Clarke's Scotland after Denmark heroics?

Never mind re-writing history, one complaint recently fired at the SFA after they started reclassifying games in order to award caps. Steve Clarke’s side are now busy ripping up the record books.

Not since the days of the Wall Street Crash have Scotland been able to string together so many consecutive competitive victories. But it took nearly two years, between March 1928 - a 5-1 win over England - and February 1930, to do so. The current run has taken little over ten weeks.

One of the main complaints, certainly one cited by Walter Smith, Alex McLeish and Craig Levein in recent times, is that the Scotland manager's position simply could not offer the stimulation of a club post. There simply wasn’t enough opportunity to work with players. As for games, six or seven matches that mattered a year just didn’t cut it.

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Clarke himself admitted he would miss the “day-to-day involvement” when he was appointed manager in May 2019. This hasn’t been an issue lately, partly due to the re-arrangement of the international calendar due to Covid.

Callum McGregor and Andreas Cornelius battle under the twinkling lights of Hampden. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Scotland have never played so many competitive fixtures - 13 - in one calendar year. It may never happen again. The frustration is that it’s all now over although Clarke still has one date ringed in his diary; next Friday’s World Cup play-off draw, with Scotland safely nestled among the seeds.

The warming prospect of a home play-off semi-final early next year has come on the back of an exhilarating win and performance against Denmark. The frustration is the play-offs are not now next month.

A concerned Clarke earlier this week proposed a suspensions summit attended by the countries involved, with eight Scotland players still under threat of missing the next World Cup game - potentially a play-off final - if they are booked in the semi-final. There should also be some campaigning for these play-offs to be played before Christmas. No point hanging around. Clarke would be in favour. He’s getting used to the rhythm of games almost every month. He's getting used to being around players who have forgotten how not to win. Will they still be in the groove in March?

“I go into hibernation now for four months!" said Clarke. "It’s a long time for the lads to be away. You don’t know what’s going to happen, four months is a long time. But it’s a nice thing to go into the deep winter months and we have a play-off to look forward to. And we have a team that can play on the pitch.”

Scotland players celebrate with Che Adams after the Southampton striker made it 2-0. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Clarke was proving as understated as ever as he reflected on one of the finest performances that many could remember from a Scotland team. The manager’s recruitment of Che Adams has proved a particular masterstroke. “He’s not bad Che McAdams, eh?” he smiled, wise to the fact some amid the vast majority welcoming this clearly talented striker questioned calling up someone who had rebuffed an earlier approach from McLeish.

“He is a good player, Che,” added Clarke. “I have always said it. And he is a striker, like most, who needs confidence. He has scored a few for Southampton and is in a good place. He got his goal against Moldova then you see it against Denmark. Good finish, good composure.”

“Everything [about his game] was so good, against three physical centre backs. He isn’t the tallest, Che, but he is a strong bugger.”

The year began with Scotland emerging from a second lockdown. It's hard to credit while ears are still ringing from the atmosphere created by over 50,000 fans on Monday, but Scotland’s first two home World Cup qualifiers were played behind closed doors.

Steve Clarke was full of praise for Che Adams (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

One wonders if Clarke’s side would have reached the intensity of performance found against Denmark without such fervent backing from the stands. But there’s no question the team has improved, even since the bitterly disappointing 3-1 home reversal against Croatia in the final Euro 2020 group game. Robbed of Billy Gilmour due to Covid, the Scots seemed to be chasing shadows for long spells against a side that were demonstrating that however far they had come under the manager, another level existed in international football.

Denmark posted a reminder of this as recently as September in Copenhagen. But Scotland have benefited from this exposure to such quality. They are learning. Not only that, but they are proving they have a hitherto undetected strength in depth. John Souttar stepped into one of Scotland's so-called problem positions of right centre-half and not only scored the first goal against the Danes, but was also named man of the match - this despite not being named in the original squad.

"John Souttar was the story of the night, I’m so happy for him," said Clarke. "I gave him a big hug when he came off and I could have cried.”

Meanwhile, Stuart Armstrong came on and performed to good effect, setting up Adams for the second goal with a neat dink and nearly scoring himself at the far post after the roles were reversed and Adams turned provider. No one is talking about Ryan Gauld’s absence from the squad now.

Even though Clarke is sometimes criticised for a wingback system that is sometimes interpreted as playing five-at-the-back, the attacking possibilities were encapsulated in a sweeping move from the edge of Scotland's own box that saw Ryan Christie release Andy Robertson with a 40-yard pass with the outside of his boot. The skipper fed Adams, whose shot was ultimately deflected wide.

"We have come a long way in a short space of time and it’s great so let’s just enjoy it," said Clarke. “It has been a good campaign. It was nice to take part in our first tournament. I don’t know if anyone remembers but I did say at the time I felt we would come out of that tournament as a better team and better squad. I think we have proved that.

"I think we have improved as a team for the fact that we have been together (so much). We got criticised for the tournament, but we learned at the tournament and that was important.”

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