'I knew somebody would find that stat eventually!' Steve Clarke on the part he played when Scotland last went on an eight-match unbeaten run

It was really very simple, wasn’t it? Want to make Scotland hard to beat again? Consult the record books and appoint a manager who played the majority of games in an epic late-1980s run of matches without loss.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke is looking forward to a short break (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The irony is that rather than help Scotland to a major finals, this sequence of results – one in particular, against Bulgaria – only secured another country’s qualification.

Steve Clarke played the night Republic of Ireland qualified for the 1988 European Championships – their first-ever major finals – under Jack Charlton. It was a watershed moment in their history and reputedly secured Gary Mackay, the scorer of Scotland’s winner that night in Sofia, a crate of Guinness.

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Clarke won’t want any team other than Scotland to profit this time around. He is desperate for something tangible to be gained from the current good form, specifically a place at next summer’s Euro finals. Promotion to League A of the Nations League and a play-off opportunity for the World Cup in Qatar is also at stake, as well as the associated seeding spin-off.

Current Scotland boss Steve Clarke in action for the national team in a 2-0 win over Hungary on September 09, 1987. Pic: SNS Group

Clarke made his international debut in the September 1987 victory over Hungary that started Scotland’s last unbeaten run of eight matches. Gordon Strachan played that night while Alex McLeish was alongside Clarke in defence for the 1-0 win in Bulgaria. Both have since had a turn – in McLeish’s case, two turns – at trying to get Scotland back to a major finals, and both, while coming close, fell short.

Strachan got within 45 minutes of a play-off. McLeish came within 90 minutes of actual qualification and then, in a less successful second spell in spell, still managed to secure the play-off place from which the Scots might yet clinch something they so desperately desire. Amid the current excitement ahead of next month’s play-off final against Serbia, Clarke has been careful to make mention of McLeish’s contribution. He was also happy to hear the part he played in Scotland's last eight-match unbeaten run had been discovered.

“I knew somebody would find that stat eventually!” he said. “I was actually involved in five out of the eight games on that run. There are a couple of dodgy draws in there against Saudi Arabia and Malta but for me it was a proud moment to make my debut in a 2-0 victory against Hungary, a 2-0 victory in the next match against Belgium and then an away win in Bulgaria which allowed the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the finals.

“It was nice to be involved in that run as a player but it is nicer to be involved in this run as the head coach,” he added.

Despite his lucky mascot status, Clarke was jettisoned from the team and then, particularly painfully, from the final squad for the 1990 World Cup finals having been included in the original party at the start of the year.

He played only once more – coming into the side for a 3-1 defeat against the Netherlands at the end of the 1993/94 season and more than six years after his last cap. He was 31.

It might be one reason why he seems so open to recruiting those perceived by some to have missed the international boat, if they were ever good enough to be considered international class in the first place. In the cases of Andrew Considine, Declan Gallagher and Paul Hanlon, the answer from the majority of fans would be probably not.

Think back to Friday, before Considine became an established international player. What were you doing, what were your hopes for the coming days? Considine had been called up as cover after Liam Cooper dropped out with injury. “Out of the blue,” is how he described it. He wasn’t expecting to play.

Seven days later, he has two caps for his country. He was involved in each of the 180 plus minutes, fraught last moments against Czech Republic included. Scotland posted two clean sheets. He has proved pretty much flawless.

The 33-year-old can now expect to be included in next month’s squad for the away triple-header against Serbia, Slovakia and Israel. In fact, he is entitled to be disappointed if he’s not in the team.

“I asked them to make it difficult for me and they have done that,” said Clarke. “Andy Considine on Saturday didn’t have a cap, now he has two caps and two clean sheets. Paul Hanlon at 31, sat out the Hibs game at the weekend with a niggle and now he has a cap.

“He has waited a long time for that and moments like that are really important," he added. "We presented the first caps to all the boys that have earned them recently and for Lyndon (Dykes), Andy and Paul, it is particularly poignant.”

No one seems indispensable now. Even Andy Robertson, the skipper and highest-profile player, was not missed against Czech Republic. Similarly, the question is not where Kieran Tierney should play, but whether he should be brought back in at all.

That’s for Clarke to consider in the coming weeks. He will probably name his squad in the first week of November. It’s not far away, which, given Scotland’s current momentum, should please Clarke. In the first instance he intends to have a short, deserved break.

“I am going to have two or three days to go away and relax and chill out, nothing too much about Covid and bubbles!” he said. “I will chill out for a few days and then full speed ahead for the analysis on Serbia and make sure we get the tactics, squad selection and team selection right.

“Hopefully at the end of the three matches we are still smiling.”

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