Missing players, Clarke the bus, real belief - 3 talking points from Scotland's victory over the Czech Republic
Scotland’s eighth game unbeaten, a clean sheet, and three points against a side placed above them in the FIFA rankings. Whichever way you look at it, an impressive result from Steve Clarke’s side. However, Scotland were also without several first-team regulars such as Andy Robertson, Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Scott McKenna, and Stuart Armstrong.
While managers at any level will always want to play their strongest team in must-win games, assuming everyone remains fit or recovers in time for the Serbia game then the coaching staff are going to have a positive selection dilemma on their hands.
Some positions aren’t up for debate – if Lyndon Dykes is fit, he should absolutely start up front – but the performances of Andy Considine, Declan Gallagher, and Scott McTominay may have given Clarke food for thought in defence while there are also midfield places up for grabs.
Serbia will pose a sterner test than Israel, Slovakia, or the Czechs but having such a talented pool of players to choose from, and a strong bench to call upon, may make the task slightly easier.
Clarke the bus
Killie-ball, Clarke the bus, call it what you will – Steve Clarke has done the seemingly impossible and turned Scotland into a stuffy, hard-to-beat side. Most fans would bite your hand off for a string of hard-fought 1-0 wins if it meant Scotland progressing and not finding new and exciting ways of disappointing a nation.
The stats are very similar from his time at Rugby Park because the scenarios are similar: a team punching above its weight and outperforming expectactions through hard work, togetherness, and sheer determination.
Performances may not be that easy on the eye but if Clarke leads Scotland to a major tournament, will anyone really care?
No. No they will not.
Speaking after the game, Ryan Fraser and John McGinn both hinted that there was a positive feeling in the Scotland camp that hasn’t been there for quite some time, which is exactly what you want to hear from a team with a huge Euro 2020 play-off final next month. Eight games unbeaten, three consecutive clean sheets, new partnerships working, players taking to unfamiliar positions like ducks to water – the signs are all there.
But while it might be quintessentially Scottish to get this far and somehow contrive to come up short in the most heartbreaking way possible, things feel different this time.
Lyndon Dykes finally looks like the target man Scotland have needed for years, Ryan Fraser has looked particularly dangerous playing through the middle, and John McGinn is back to his best.
Even the backline, hastily thrown together at the last minute as first-choice defenders dropped like flies, performed well.
It’s not that long ago that the prospect of beating Serbia on their own turf would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s beginning to look like victory (a 1-0 win, naturally) is doable.
There’s finally a belief in the squad, in the coaching staff, in the fans, that this might finally be the time Scotland get over the line.
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