Scotland banking on Tartan Army's support to help inspire breakdown of 'stuffy' Moldova

Although he is over two years into his tenure as international manager, Steve Clarke has still to experience the Hampden Roar at its fullest volume.
Steve Clarke watches on as Scotland are put through their paces ahead of tonight's match against Moldova.Steve Clarke watches on as Scotland are put through their paces ahead of tonight's match against Moldova.
Steve Clarke watches on as Scotland are put through their paces ahead of tonight's match against Moldova.

He won’t be hearing it tonight either. Moldova are a long way from box office.

Nevertheless, the thrill of all restrictions having been lifted means Scotland will play in front of a very respectable crowd of at least 35,000 – the largest Hampden attendance of the Clarke era and the first time since November 2019 that no limit has been set on the numbers allowed to attend.

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Of course, for a long spell that figure was zero. The players performed in a soulless bowl all last year and earlier this year and it was only for the two Euro 2020 group games at the national stadium that anyone was allowed in at all.

The prospect of a three-quarters full Hampden is novel enough for Clarke to be asked to consider the impact it may have on the game, which is one Scotland know they have to win irrespective of the number of people there.

The manager clearly hopes there will be a positive effect and having experienced just how inspiring 35,000 fully committed and engaged supporters can be in Copenhagen on Wednesday night, he’s particularly alert to how stiff backing can be linked to the performance levels of players. It was very apparent in the Parken stadium, sadly to Scotland’s detriment. The ground was full and in ferment long before kick-off. By the time Scotland had caught their breath they were 2-0 down and already out of contention.

“All the players, coaching staff and myself look forward to having the backing of the Tartan Army," said Clarke. "Hopefully we can get a fast start in the game, start on the front foot and get them right behind the team as they can make a difference.

“I think any game of football without a crowd at this level is not what you want. The players enjoy the intensity of the crowd. Even going to Denmark the other night, it was a fantastic atmosphere inside the stadium. Players enjoy that. Big players always enjoy playing in front of a crowd and showing what they can do.

"They enjoy showing off, if you like. That’s what they want to do, they want to show everyone how good they are so hopefully we can produce a performance for the Tartan Army on Saturday."

The defeat in Copenhagen means victory tonight is non-negotiable, although this would have been the case whatever that outcome. Clarke knows it, the players know it and, of course, the returning fans know it. This is another potential consequence of a large crowd gathering on the slopes of Hampden with the expectation of being entertained.

They can quickly become restless if things do not unfold as expected. Against a team such as Moldova, ranked 175 in the world, what’s expected is a handsome victory.

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Clarke has had one meaningful training session to get the Demark defeat out of the players’ legs and prepare for opponents who will come with a game-plan designed to frustrate. He will at least have John McGinn back and a recognised right back – probably Stephen O’Donnell but possibly Nathan Patterson – in place after the unhappy re-deployment of Andy Robertson in midweek. Clarke will be aware of the need to get the fans back onside quickly.

“Listen, we know by and large they (Moldova) will come and sit in and be difficult to break down,” he said. “It is our job to move the ball quickly so, in the training session we do, you are working on one or two-touch passing and moving the ball quickly and trying to create space.

“We know they will be dogged,” he added. “They were dogged the other night against Austria, they took until 45 minutes to get the first goal and 96 minutes to get the second, so we know they will be dogged.

"It is up to us to break the resilience and dominate the ball and pass the ball well," he said. (We need to) pass it quickly and create chances to get the crowd on board, get the crowd with us, and hopefully a good performance and a good three points.”

However resilient the Moldovans prove, they don’t possess the flair to cut Scotland open the way Denmark did in midweek. Defender Liam Cooper attributed the first-half display in Copenhagen to players “panicking” on the ball. Although they will not be harried to the same extent tonight, Scotland will still need to pick their passes.

“I think it’s something that we are reasonably good at – passing the ball and keeping the ball,” said Clarke. “We are usually comfortable in possession but for 15-20 minutes the other night we didn’t look comfortable in possession.

"Don’t forget the opposition. You have to credit the opposition – they are a pretty good team the Danes and they got about us and made it tough for us.

But we can learn lessons from that. Hopefully we’ll have the ball from the start on Saturday and we can move it quickly and we can cause Moldova a few problems.”

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According to Clarke, morale is still “good” in the camp. He will also have been lifted by words from SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell, effectively Clarke’s boss. Maxwell defended handing the manager a new contract which takes him beyond the next World Cup and through the qualifying campaign for Euro 2024.

“It is important to win games,” said Clarke. “If you win games the feel-good factor is always there. We understand our job. We are all professionals.

“We have been in the game a long time, some longer than others. For example, me longer than Billy Gilmour. We understand only good performances and victories make people happy and that’s what we will be trying to do at the weekend.”