Such a defensive configuration had not been witnessed since the early stages of Clarke’s tenure. Indeed, the 3-1 home win over Kazakhstan in which he deployed it marked the conclusion of a miserable Euro 2020 that accounted for his being enticed from Kilmarnock seven months earlier. Yet, within Scotland’s backline structure for the Nations League encounter there was a far rarer sight. Even if it would be a shock to most just how incredibly rare.
Kieran Tierney didn’t just make a longed-for return to the international arena. Following a season-ending knee problem sustained in March that had deprived Scotland of the Arsenal dynamo’s talents as World Cup hopes were ended by the Ukrainians before Nations League progress experienced hellish turbulence with the dismal defeat in Dublin, the 25-year-old returned as he hadn’t been seen for his country in almost six years.
Incredibly, the exhilarating 3-0 victory at Hampden that has reignited prospects of topping Group B1 represented only the third of his 33 caps in which he has played as a left-back for Scotland. Clarke had never previously utilised him in this role and, in fact, his only two outings berthed in the position came with caps no.1 and no.2…way back in 2016. Back then – the second of these a 3-0 loss away to Slovakia in November that year – Tierney was a maurading, over-lapping left back prodigy for Celtic. He cut a very different figure against the Ukrainians. Only occasionally either able or given licence to stray into the final third, there was a sober, mature air to his contribution. Even if at times he appeared a tad frustrated at having to hold himself in reserve as Ryan Christie bombed forward in front of him on the left flank.
Ultimately, though, with Scotland’s drive and determination breaking their visitors, it could be offered up that Tierney once again demonstrated his Midas touch when it comes to his active presence for the nation. Never mind that he also earned himself a crucial assist with his hopeful prod across goal spun into gold by John McGinn for the pivotal 70th minute opener.
With no Tierney, Scotland’s June “hesitation” as Clarke euphemistically called it – in a fashion that would do proud to any politician seeking to mask a mini-crisis – led to an eight-game unbeaten run coming to an abrupt end. It must be more than co-incidence that with the special performer back in the fold, Clarke’s men refound themselves in commendable fashion. In doing so securing what represents their most emphatic success over a calibre opponent in Clarke’s reign.
Tierney now hasn’t tasted defeat in his past nine Scotland appearances. Indeed, the only two losses in his last 17 internationals came against Denmark and Croatia.
The Arsenal defender elevates his country, of that there can be surely no doubt. Even when he isn’t at his peak conditioning, as he remains working towards following his long-term injury sidelining earlier this year. Good players find a way to make a difference, and Tierney does that on national service.