Steve Clarke addresses Scotland's winless run, admits 'too many' in one position and offers few clues on team

The Scotland boss does not want failure to find victories to become a habit

Steve Clarke admits a run of five winless games is preying on his mind as Scotland prepare to face Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands side in a pre-Euro 2024 friendly in Amsterdam on Friday night.

The manager refused to accept any mitigating factors, including that two of the games in this sequence were after Scotland had already qualified for Euro 2024. “You always have to be responsible for your own standards,” he stressed. “That’s why the two competitive games (against Georgia and Norway) irked me a little bit more than losing the friendly matches against England and France. It would have been nice to finish with a good points total in the group even though we couldn’t finish top. It would have been nice to finish on the same points as the Spanish.”

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Scotland have been beaten in three of their previous five outings. They have conceded as many goals in these games (14) as they did in their previous 18 matches combined. They haven’t gone six games in a row without a win since doing so between October 2007 and September 2008, a period which saw Alex McLeish depart and George Burley take over as manager.

Scotland head coach Steve Clarke.Scotland head coach Steve Clarke.
Scotland head coach Steve Clarke.

Better times have arrived under Clarke but he wants a pre-Euros boost as he continues mulling over his final squad of 23 players. "It’s obviously not crucial because it’s a competitive friendly but we don’t like the fact it is five games since we had a win," noted the manager. "We think we are better than that. We want to get wins on the board as quick as we can and tomorrow night would be a good time to start. If you look at the first five competitive games last year we scored 12 goals and conceded one, and won five games,” he added. “In the second five games we scored seven and conceded 14. You don’t win many games if you concede 14 goals. So, something to work on…”

Scotland’s cause has not been helped by the loss of two centre-halves. Grant Hanley pulled out due to an ankle injury before the squad met up while Scott McKenna did not travel on Thursday due to an injury that the manager explained had flared up while playing for FC Copenhagen last weekend. “It’s not a big drama that two have dropped out the squad because I did have too many (seven),” Clarke said.

The manager offered few clues about who might play from the start in Amsterdam other than to stress he won’t go full-on experimental. “We know it’s another one of the better European nations that we are playing against so it is going to be a tough night but hopefully we can show that we have learned a little bit from the games against France, England and Spain and we can be really competitive here and get that win," he said. "If we don’t get it here then we will try to get it on Tuesday (against Northern Ireland).”

Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland is hoping to make only his second-ever start for Scotland in one of these fixtures. “Over the two games all the strikers will get minutes,” said Clarke. “It doesn’t matter who starts, it’s not important. It’s more important how they play when they get to the pitch and what their contribution to the team is.”

Craig Gordon is standing by to win his 75th cap – 16 months after his last appearance. The 41-year-old is one of four goalkeepers in the squad. “Training has been great, hands have been clean, good saves,” said Clarke. “It has been really interesting. I maybe should have brought four goalkeepers more often!”