'I have to do my job' - Rangers v Celtic and other big fixtures won't play on Steve Clarke's mind in Austria as team selection discussed

The stakes for tonight’s match between Austria and Scotland in Vienna could have been so much higher had circumstances been different.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke during a training session at the Oriam.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke during a training session at the Oriam.

As it is, only a few thousand spectators are expected to attend the Ernst Happel Stadion to watch this international challenge match, with 50 per cent of proceeds going towards organisations helping the people of war-torn Ukraine. Austria had hoped to be preparing for a World Cup play-off decider against either the Scots or Ukrainians, but a 2-1 defeat by Wales on Thursday night in Cardiff ended their aspirations. Their manager Franco Foda will stand down after this match, as a new cycle for Austrian football begins. For Scotland, there is still so much to play for this year.

Unsure when they will face Ukraine in the World Cup play-off semi-finals, it is now about maintaining form for when the real business comes around. Undefeated in seven matches, Steve Clarke’s men are in a good place and feel like a team continuing on an upward trajectory. Another positive result in Austria, where a 1-0 group-stage win back in September revived hopes of reaching the finals in Qatar, would imbue an already confident group of players with further morale.

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Scotland boss Clarke feels we should be talking about seven wins in a row, rather than seven without defeat, given the controversial nature of Poland’s penalty equaliser last week at in a 1-1 draw at Hampden. “It was a winning run until the other night when the referee intervened at the end of the game,” Clarke noted. “It would be nice to still be speaking about a winning run! But listen, if we can keep the unbeaten run going through the back of this friendly with Austria and into the competitive games in June then that would be good for us.

Ryan Jack could be handed a start in midfield.

“What I’m looking for really is a good performance on the pitch. And if I get a good performance, the result should follow.”

Clarke is expected to tinker with his line-up – “there will be more changes than there normally would be in a competitive double header … that’s all you’re getting out of me” – but he stopped short of saying he would rest players for big club matches coming up. With a huge Old Firm derby taking place on Sunday between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox, it is understandable if club managers would want to see certain players left on the sidelines.

“I’m mindful of what we need to get out of these games, these particular games,” Clarke responded when asked about juggling the demands of club versus country. “It’s not such a bad camp because there is a game Thursday night and good recovery time before the Tuesday game.“The way it shapes up now with the broadcast games, most of them are on a Sunday anyway. The bigger games tend to be later in the weekend. So there is plenty of time to recover on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And for most of them Saturday before they play on the Sunday. It’s not a big issue.”

Asked about whether conversations with his club counterparts take on a diplomatic or hard-ball nature, Clarke continued: “If I’m being honest, I try not to have the conversations. That’s me just being honest.

“I have to do my job. My job is to put a winning team on the pitch for Scotland’s national team. I just have to do my job.

“Listen, I’ve been a club manager and understand the boundaries and how everybody wants to look after their own players at their clubs.

“Everybody has to be selfish, but I have to be selfish when they come into camp. When they come into camp I get to borrow those players for ten days, or whatever it is.

“I have to utilise them as I see fit, to do the job that I need them to do for their country.”

One such club grumble came from QPR’s Mark Warburton, who said that if his striker Lyndon Dykes wasn’t fit to play for the Londoners, then he should not be on Scotland duty. Clarke cleared up the matter.

“I spoke to Mark before, but haven’t spoken to him since,” he revealed.

“Lyndon did his work with QPR and QPR said he was free to come up and join us on the Thursday.

“He did that and he watched the game against Poland.

“Since then he’d had a couple of training sessions and Lyndon is good to go. He wants to be involved.

“Obviously we have to be mindful of the fact he hasn’t played for over six weeks now. It’s been a long time out so it’s nice to have him back in the squad.

“It’s important to have him with the group.”

Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack is one player who is likely to start against Austria. Robbed of action at Euro 2020 due to injury, he has regained his fitness and has impressed for Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team. Clarke is clearly a big fan of Jack, who came on as a sub against the Poles.

“It’s good, I’m really pleased for Ryan,” Clarke said of his return. “It was a really tough time for him and he had to dig deep and get his work done properly. But you can see the way he’s come back that he’s hit the ground running so he obviously did his rehab properly and trained very diligently.

“He’s back in good shape and it was just nice to see him back in a Scotland strip and running onto the pitch to represent his country.

“I know Ryan was pleased to be out there and it was nice to have him back.”

Regardless of team selection, Clarke wants Scotland to show they can be as forceful on the road as they are at Hampden. “If you want to keep improving then away performances are a big part of that,” Clarke added. “You want go away from home and get good results, as we did the last time we came to Vienna.”

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