Steve Clarke in 'forceful' reminder to Scotland players as he demands World Cup levels of intensity for friendly matches

Scotland manager Steve Clarke has enrolled his players in a ‘refresher course’ as he bids to ensure their standards and intensity levels are maintained amid the delay to the climax of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Clarke’s squad should have been facing a play-off semi-final against Ukraine at Hampden on Thursday night. That fixture has been rescheduled for June as the Russian military assault on Ukraine continues, with Scotland now facing Poland in a friendly which will raise funds for UNICEF’s emergency appeal for humanitarian aid to support families and children affected by the conflict.

The Scots will play another friendly next Tuesday, away to the losers of the other semi-final in their play-off path between Wales and Austria.

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Scotland built up remarkable momentum in the first half of this season with six consecutive wins in their World Cup qualifying group, culminating in an impressive 2-0 win over Denmark at Hampden last November.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke (left) in coversation with coach Steven Naismith during a training session on Tuesday ahead of the friendly international against Poland at Hampden on Thursday night. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Clarke will stress upon his players the need to approach the friendlies in a similar vein and keep their focus firmly fixed on their World Cup ambitions.

“From the football side of things the preparation will be what it always is,” said Clarke’s assistant coach Steven Naismith.

“The manager is very forceful in terms of what he expects and how high he wants the standard to be.

“So there is an element of raising awareness and raising money for Ukraine and an outstanding cause.

Bologna defender Aaron Hickey is in contention to make his senior Scotland debut against Poland at Hampden on Thursday. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“But we have to focus on the football side as well and that’s important from now until June. It’s about giving the boys a refresher course on what’s expected of them.

“In terms of the football and the preparation side, the key things for us revolve around the fact the squad has had four or five months away from each other.

"They have had a lot of time off and gone back to their clubs and it has been pretty clear, the way the manager plays and how he would expect things to be done, that there is a lot of repetition and a lot of things having to be drilled into the players.

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“This week has been about getting that fresh in the minds of everyone again and hopefully carrying on with the good run of form we have been on.

“When we come to June we will follow these up with some very big games. So it’s very important (to maintain the intensity) and something the manager has been very good at.

“The new guys that come in also have to show they can be around this level consistently and push to try and make an impact in the squad. The players need to be constantly pushing each other to reach those standards.”

Captain Andy Robertson will miss out on Thursday because of Covid, although the Liverpool left-back could return to the squad for next Tuesday’s match.

It could open the door for Aaron Hickey to make his debut against Poland after the 19-year-old former Hearts player, now excelling in Serie A with Bologna, was called up for the first time.

“He has a lot of attributes that don’t define him purely as a left back or a left wing-back,” said Naismith. “He is an intelligent footballer, so I’m sure that he could play in a number of positions for Scotland.”

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