September’s 1-0 victory in Austria was a result of immense importance. It pushed Clarke’s squad into the driving seat for second place in the World Cup qualification group behind leaders Denmark, while it saw a wave of positivity come roaring back after the morale of early summer slowly evaporated amid the disappointment of failing to get out of the first round of Euro 2020 and concerning performances against both the Danes and Moldova in the two matches which preceded it.
Though undoubtedly a highly talented group of players, there isn’t a whole lot of international experience in Clarke’s squad, so the victory in Vienna could be a significant boost in confidence for a unit which now knows they can go to a favoured opponent, outperform them and win the game. It’s a significant step as the manager seeks to take them to the next level.
"They are growing together as a group and moments like the night in Austria when you manage to go away and beat a team that is seeded above you, can only help the development of this group. Now we have to build on that,” insisted Clarke.
"The supporters are showing belief in the team. There's a sell-out for the Israel game and the Denmark game next month I believe, so I think the supporters are buying into this squad of players.
“There's a lot of good players in that squad. It's a squad that I think in my time as head coach has evolved well. We're improving and I still think there's more improvement to come, so what's not to be optimistic about.
"The Euros, ultimately, when you look back on it, was a great experience. It was a learning curve for everyone because we hadn't been there for a while so take the positives out of it rather than the negatives.”
Adding to the positivity is the return of a few key players from injury. Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong return having been forced out through injury last time around, while Callum McGregor – excellent in Austria – has already justified the gamble taken on his fitness with the Celtic star featuring in his side’s loss to Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday.
The return of McTominay presents an interesting poser for Clarke. The Manchester United ace has been a regular starter when fit, either in midfield or the back-three, but he may find things a little more difficult this time around.
“It’s nice to have Scott back. He has been a big player for me,” said Clarke. “He will need to come in and be good in the camp to get himself back in the team.
"I have utilised him as a third central defender mainly for his midfield qualities. It has been reasonably successful at times. Maybe not quite so successful at others.
“We are starting to get good competition for a lot of places in the team which is very healthy.”