'Maybe I over-egged the illness bit a wee bit': Steve Clarke explains how he galvanised Scotland for famous Ukraine result

Steve Clarke has admitted that he cranked up the illness drama pre-match to galvanise his weary players before one last huge effort against Ukraine.

The ploy worked as Scotland secured the draw required on a nervous night in Krakow.

They can now look forward to being among the pot two seeds in the Euro 2024 qualifying draw which takes place a week on Sunday in Germany. Clarke joked that his contract is due to expire before the next edition of the Nations League, when Scotland take their place in League A along with the likes of Italy and Germany. "I am just mentioning it?" he smiled.

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Over 3,000 Scottish supporters celebrated into the night in Poland after a patched-up Scotland side defended heroically against their motivated opponents.

The Scotland players take the acclaim of a 3,000-strong travelling support after the 0-0 draw against Ukraine.
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Clarke hailed debutant Ryan Porteous and also stressed Jack Hendry’s vital part with the on-loan Cremonese centre half playing his third match in a week.

Clarke revealed on the eve of the game that a sickness bug was playing havoc with his preparations on top of the injuries that meant he was making running repairs to the side.

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“Maybe I over-egged the illness bit a wee bit just to galvanise us going into the game,” Clarke said. “The illnesses were there. What I was mindful of if someone had woken up this morning with the same bug then they probably wouldn’t have played tonight.”

Ukraine are a very, very good team,” added Clarke. “We knew we would have moments in the game. We knew there would be moments when we asked Craig (Gordon) to make big saves – and he did that as he always does.

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Scotland manager Steve Clarke gives instructions to Aaron Hickey during the match against Ukraine.

“Porteous was outstanding for a debut,” he added. “I am so pleased for the boy. It shows that he listens, it shows that he learns. But also really pleased for Jack Hendry. It was a big ask for Jack.

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“Everyone expects Callum McGregor to play three games in a short space of times at that intensity, everyone expects John McGinn to do that. I had to ask Jack to do that as well again – he was struggling a bit with a cold but his performance was outstanding, like it was in all three games. (It’s) Nice to get a clean sheet again. It makes me happy as a coach.”

Clarke admitted the poor performances against Ukraine in the World Cup semi-final play off and then the 3-0 defeat to Republic of Ireland shortly afterwards had spurred the players on.

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“It is a big night,” he said. “We wanted to win the section. We wanted to show people what happened in the summer wasn’t us. We wanted to be better this week. We pressed the big button to re-set and go again and came up with three fantastic performances. All different, but all vital.”

"I sat down with my whole staff and said we had to set a different environment and be more demanding of the players and then I sat with the players and went through what we thought we did well in the summer and what we didn’t do so well.

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"We gave them a lot of information to chance the system and play a slightly different way. They took it on board and we have had a really good week.

“We have done it again tonight, we have taken this campaign to the last game" he continued. "I asked the players to take the next step to show everybody we are improving. I didn’t use the words glorious failure but I said let’s make sure we take the next step because then we will feel good about ourselves.

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"The supporters tonight were magnificent. They can go away feeling great. The connection between the supporters and the players is fantastic. That’s what we are working towards.

“Now we have reached pot two (for Euro 2024), now we are in the A group of the Nations League and we don’t want to stop. We want to keep getting better.”

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