What Steve Clarke said to Che Adams after Scotland sub and why he will be so important against Ireland
Too much work went into recruiting Che Adams to discard him again after a few, goal-less games.
The striker’s frustrations were certainly visible on Wednesday night against Armenia. It was the sort of night when a striker might expect to bolster any sapping confidence.
As was highlighted when the starting XI was announced prior to the World Cup play-off semi-final defeat to Ukraine, Adams and Lyndon Dykes, Scotland's principal strikers, had one goal between them since February for club and country. That remains the case.
If it was an issue last week – and many believed it was – then it remains an issue now. Dykes missed out through injury against Armenia on Wednesday when goals from defenders Anthony Ralston and Scott McKenna secured a much-needed 2-0 win in the Hampden rain against very moderate opponents.
The Queens Park Rangers striker has now left the Scotland camp, which means the responsibility lies more squarely on Adams’ shoulders.
Or at least he clearly feels that way. Clarke, however, has moved to ease Adams’ fears on that front. As underlined in midweek, it’s just as likely that a wing-back or full back can emerge as the match winner in the modern game. Adams’ four goals in 17 appearances since making his debut in the 2-2 draw with Austria at the start of last year is still reasonable for a Scotland international striker. But he hasn’t scored in his last 15 games since finding the net in February for Southampton against Norwich.
The 25-year-old cut a frustrated figure when he left the park – eventually. Clarke had been planning to make a double substitution around the 80th minute but it just happened to coincide with Armenia’s best spell of possession in the match.
Adams and Ryan Christie were eventually able to take their leave and were replaced by Jacob Brown and Ross Stewart, who must have been particularly frustrated by the delay as he waited to make his Scotland debut.
Brown and Stewart made a belated entrance in the 87th minute. “The two boys (Jacob Brown and Ross Stewart) were desperate to get on! It was just one of those things,” said Clarke.
“Che stayed on because I felt there was another goal in the game for us and if Che could have got it, fine. But there comes a time when I had to make the change and freshen up with the boys on the fringes to give us that little bit of extra energy to get the game over the line.”
Given that Adams will more than likely be asked to lead the line against the Republic of Ireland today, Clarke might have been tempted to replace the striker much earlier. But it’s clear he also hoped he might get the goal his efforts certainly deserved. It was noticeable that Clarke felt it necessary to give Adams a pep talk as he left the field.
“I was telling him ‘well done’,” said the manager. “It was a tough night for him, playing against a really packed defence. There was no space for him and the ball wouldn’t drop for him in the box and sometimes strikers get a little bit frustrated when that happens. It was just to tell him that he should be pleased with the way he played.”
Before last week’s World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine, Clarke explained that it wasn’t possible to simply go out and sign players in international football.
Adams, like Dykes, is the next best thing, however. Reports linking him with Scotland pre-dated Clarke’s arrival as manager, but it seemed likely this ‘transfer’ story would end in frustration.
Like a player turning down a move because he wanted to see how things might pan out at his current club, Adams responded to the initial enquiry about his availability with a polite but firm no. He had hopes of seeing two Under-20 appearances for England translate into full caps in the fullness of time.
There can be no complaints about his commitment to Scotland. He has been an undoubted success story and perhaps a more rumbustious, British-style game will suit him this afternoon at Dublin’s Aviva stadium. The Irish defenders will certainly know they have been in a game.
“If we always score one more than the opposition I’m always going to be reasonably happy,” said Clarke.
The hosts don’t tend to score a lot of goals either, which strengthens Clarke’s point about 1-0 being enough. Indeed, the Republic of Ireland have only struck two goals in 12 Nations League fixtures to date and have a more pressing goalscoring problem than Scotland.
“Che’s quite good in that he understands his role in the team,” explained Clarke. “He is a striker and obviously he likes to score goals but it’s not always about that. It doesn’t matter who is scoring the goals as long as he is contributing to the team. We never put anybody under pressure by telling them they need to score goals. That’s not the way we work.”
Adams and Scotland will be roared on by 2,500 fans in the hope – perhaps even expectation – that the visitors can secure the three points to maintain their place at the top of Group B1. Such a scenario would complete an extreme mood swing since after the Ukraine game, when everything seemed so cheerless. Clarke paid tribute to the near 40,000 supporters who turned out in midweek after such a disappointing result.
“It was a great turn-out,” he said. “And obviously myself and the players are appreciative that the Tartan Army still have faith in us and still came out to watch us.
“Hopefully they enjoyed the performance,” he added. “We knew we had to lift the crowd. They were coming and they were a little bit down. Everyone was a bit down. Hopefully they went home feeling a little bit better about their team.”