Steve Clarke says Scotland becoming ‘more difficult to play against’

Scotland manager Steve Clarke feels his players are learning with experience how to win international games as well as absorbing his tactical requirements.

Scotland continued their steady progress under Clarke when a 1-0 win over Slovakia extended their unbeaten run beyond a year and maintained top spot in Nations League Group B2.

Clarke endured a difficult start as boss, with a late win over Cyprus followed by two defeats each against Belgium and Russia.

But he has slowly but surely made the team more difficult to beat and is churning out results.

Scotland are now seven games undefeated with a Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia to follow after Wednesday’s Nations League clash with the Czech Republic at Hampden.

Much was expected of Clarke following his instant and marked transformation of Kilmarnock and his impact on Scotland is now being seen, while a new three-man back line, going against his preference for a back four, shows his ability to adapt.

“Two clean sheets in a row,” he said. “We suffered badly in the qualifiers, heavy defeats against Belgium and Russia. It takes a little bit of time to build confidence that you can get clean sheets.

“We have started to do that, we have started to look more difficult to play against, which is great.

“The players have to take the credit. The players apply themselves properly. We have tweaked the system a little bit and it has worked so far. That’s not to say it is always going to work in the future but it has worked so far.

Lyndon Dykes scores the winner against Slovakia
Lyndon Dykes scores the winner against Slovakia

“That’s credit to the players, the fact that they can take in all the information they are given and they can make the system work. With any group of players that you have, the longer you work together, the more they will start to show what you are trying to ask them to do.

“Also in international football, the more caps you get, the more experience you pick up, the more you learn how to win matches.

“It’s a relatively young-ish squad for international football. It’s a good age, starting to pick up a lot of caps, and even with one or two changes around the squad and the team at times, we seem to be progressing.

“Nobody is getting carried away. We probably did get a little bit down when we took those heavy defeats but we have bounced back from that and built good momentum.”

Clarke is never likely to get carried away and the progress cannot be described as spectacular – Clarke’s team only had two shots on target in the course of their wins over Israel, on penalties, and Slovakia.

Declan Gallagher showed his threat at set-pieces
Declan Gallagher showed his threat at set-pieces

However, they had all of the few chances in the tense play-off semi-final and there were definite signs of a greater attacking verve after Lyndon Dykes’ 54th-minute opener on Sunday.

“It’s not so much about the confidence,” Clarke said. “I think we were so solid defensively, it gives you that platform to go forward.

“We have good attacking players, although people will tell you we don’t and don’t get enough shots on target. But we get enough shots away and we get enough chances.

“Oli McBurnie came off the bench and was unlucky not to break his duck with a header. I think it was a save, I think the goalkeeper touched it. Lyndon had a big chance before I took him off, which wasn’t why I took him off, he looked tired, he had put in a hard shift.

“So we had chances in the game, good deliveries on set-plays and we are starting to look a threat on set-plays, getting a few contacts.”