The latest of these, Thursday’s 4-0 reversal against Russia, confirmed Scotland’s elimination from the automatic qualifying process for Euro 2020. They have conceded 13 goals in their last four outings, scoring just once.
When taking the job in May, Clarke stressed he was not thinking about the play-off place earned under Alex McLeish which provided Scotland with a fall-back option. Now it is all they have left. Clarke believes he can cure his side’s evident fragility and negotiate the two-game hurdle in March.
He referenced the Scottish Football Association’s dogged pursuit of him following McLeish’s exit and stressed he was still the same manager five months later. Scotland have won just once in the interim – against Cyprus in June, Clarke’s first match in charge. His appointment was met with widespread approval.
“All I would say on that one is that in May when Scotland came and head-hunted me I was the best guy for the job according to everybody,” he said. “Now if I’m not the best man for the job then there is something wrong.
“I’m still confident about the job. If I wasn’t confident then I’d find something else to do. These were all going to be four difficult games. The disappointing aspect from the four difficult games is that we’ve lost three of them by a margin that’s too high at this level.
“Even if you’re going to lose they should be close games.
“I thought in Russia for 60 minutes it was a close game but you can’t allow a game to run away from you like we did.”
Clarke must opt for a different striker to lead the line against San Marino at Hampden tomorrow – if he decides to play with only one striker against the other whipping boys in the group.
Oli Burke sustained an injury in the first half against Russia before being replaced by Lawrence Shankland at half-time. The on-loan Alaves forward left the camp yesterday.
“He’s injured, he got a knock,” explained Clarke. “He’s out for the San Marino game. We knew that at half-time.
“I thought he did okay, I’ve got to be honest. Having said that, when Lawrence went on at half-time I felt a little bit sorry for him because he was isolated up there. He showed some nice touches.
“Don’t forget too that was John Fleck’s first cap, Mikey Devlin too.
“Liam Palmer was only playing his second game so there was a bit of inexperience out there. Coupled with the fragility of the squad it maybe cost us.
“But it’s now a test of temperament for everybody, even the ones with 20 or 30 caps,” he added. “It’s a test for everybody, it’s a test for me after a short space of time. I have realised the size of the task. But I’m not going to run away from it. I’m going to stand and fight it.
“It’s up to us as a team to make sure that in the next three games we go into the March games in a better place.”