Steve Clarke’s reign as Scotland manager began promisingly enough when goals by Andy Robertson and Oli Burke delivered a 2-1 win over Cyprus at Hampden on 8 June.
However, that result was followed by the wake-up call of losses at home and away to Belgium and Russia with an aggregate scoreline of 1-13 before San Marino, rated the world’s worst international side, were thrashed 6-0 at Hampden last month.
On the surface, there would appear to be few grounds for optimism, but Kenny Dalglish, arguably the greatest footballer this country has produced and inarguably one of its most successful managers, believes that the results thus far merely prove the old adage that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Six points harvested from a potential 18 may not seem too encouraging but, while others see a continuation of the decline evident under Alex McLeish, Dalglish insists that progress has already been made although, in the absence of a magic wand, patience will be required for it to come to fruition.
The former Liverpool and Celtic manager has good reason to place his trust in Clarke’s ability to improve and organise players, having appointed him as his assistant when he agreed to manage the Anfield side for a second time in 2011.
Their season and a half together yielded a League Cup success and an FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea, but Dalglish was impressed by the 56-year-old’s coaching and man-management skills and insists he is the right man for the job.
“It’s in the most capable hands it could be at this moment in time,” said Dalglish. “The results may not have been great but it doesn’t take away Stevie’s knowledge or his ability to get results. It’s just about patience.
“He will take it forward and I think we’re getting stronger on the pitch. The person who was best suited for the job was Stevie.”
Scotland wind down their qualifying group with fixtures in Cyprus on Saturday and a visit from Kazakhstan on Tuesday and Clarke has made it clear that these fixtures will be used to gain positive momentum for the forthcoming Euro 2020 play-offs in March in which McLeish had secured a place through finishing top of the Nations League group last year.
Even so, Dalglish is convinced that Clarke is the right man to lead Scotland into their most important knockout matches since the Euro 2004 play-off against Netherlands 16 years ago.
“When the Scotland job came up, Stevie had been at Kilmarnock and there were four Manager of the Year awards to be handed out; he won three of them,” he added.
“If the SFA hadn’t asked him to become the manager then they would have been crucified. So they’ve gone to the right man and now he just needs to get results. He’ll get them, too. I know the last game was only against San Marino but I thought we played well.
“You obviously take into account what San Marino’s standing is but we’d played them seven times previously and hadn’t beaten them by 6-0 before.
“They scored some good goals that night and also played some decent football despite a fear the game might be abandoned due to the flooding on the pitch. I thought they did really well and, against Russia, they had started promisingly but lost a goal and then capitulated after that.
“Scotland still have a chance to qualify through the play-offs [in March] and that should be a sign of encouragement for us. It’s maybe not a second chance but a third chance to get through and, if we can take it, then we should take it.”
Dalglish singled out Clarke’s decision to draft in Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland and hand the Championship’s leading scorer a starting role against San Marino last month as an example of astute management.
“It doesn’t matter to Stevie where they’re playing – Shankland came in against San Marino and did well,” he said. “It was the perfect game for him as he’s a goalscorer.
“He only scored one but he was in the box every time the ball came in and you’re going to score goals if you get into the box. It may be going to extremes because it was only San Marino, but it doesn’t matter; it showed Stevie can pick players to play in a position and to play in a game that suits them.
“That suited the boy and I thought he did well. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say he’ll play in the next game but it gives everyone else an incentive to say there might be a place there for them as well.”
Dalglish also enthused about the energy midfielder John McGinn brings to the team.
“I’d only seen him on television before but I got a better idea of John McGinn last week when Aston Villa played Liverpool,” he said.
“He’s done brilliantly down there and we’ve bypassed the fact he played in their promotion-winning team as well. He’s come into the Premier League this season and done very well.”