Hearts and Hibs Scotland omissions show Steve Clarke has to be more willing to freshen things up
Already without the likes of Andy Robertson, Liam Cooper and John Souttar, Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s plans took a further hit when Grant Hanley and Jacob Brown joined Jon McLaughlin in withdrawing from the squad ahead of the Nations League triple header.
The national boss opted to draft in Rangers’ back-up goalkeeper Robby McCrorie but left it at that, maintaining he still has “more than enough in the squad to cover the first game”.
A manager who has previous for treating the national camp as a private members club with a lengthy waiting list, his loyalty to players is notable and, at times, praiseworthy. At other times it is simply frustrating.
Any criticism of his approach was justifiably stymied when the players he was selecting were running up a tally of six successive wins, qualifying for the Euros and knocking on the door of a first World Cup appearance since 1998. Winning just two of the last six outings does place him and his favoured players under more of a microscope when it comes to squad and team selection, though.
While newcomers do finally make it into the set-up and eventually onto the pitch, it often takes a while to force Clarke’s hand.
Players like Billy Gilmour, John Souttar, Aaron Hickey and Ryan Porteous breached the barriers but, while some players slip in, it is not easy to convert a high level of performance at club level into a shot at game time under the Scotland boss.
At the beginning there was a freshness to the way he welcomed players he trusted from his Kilmarnock days into the ranks. It suggested a willingness to cast his net wide and look beyond the Old Firm or English sides, recognising the merits of those doing the business at domestic level.
But there have been numerous examples of feet dragging since.
If Souttar finally won him over, the men who performed so well alongside the centre-back have been less fortunate.
Craig Halkett was eventually invited in but injury denied him game time. But Stephen Kingsley has been an obvious omission, especially when Kieran Tierney was missing. Even now, with defenders dropping like pins, it would be interesting to know if the man who gained his only cap back in 2016 is in Clarke’s thinking. The 28-year-old, who had an outstanding season last term and is maintaining standards, can offer cover in the middle or left of a three or four-man backline and can also provide a set-piece threat. He did pick up a slight knock against Motherwell on Sunday but, having played the full 90 minutes, if he is fit enough, he is surely worthy of a call-up.
The same could be said of Hibs’ Chris Cadden who has been ignored despite being one of the best and most consistent Scottish right-backs throughout the last campaign.
Further forward, Barrie McKay, one of the most influential players in a team that comfortably finished best of the rest last term continues to be overlooked.
If Scotland were still racking up the wins then Clarke’s aversion to change would be forgivable, if not always understandable, but with injuries mounting and recent results suggesting that a freshening up may be required, now would be a good time to extend that membership list.
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