Scotland boss Steve Clarke defends Oli McBurnie and offers Liverpool Andy Robertson update

Scotland manager Steve Clarke defended Oli McBurnie after the striker passed up opportunities to score his first international goal in the 1-0 defeat to Slovakia.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke (right) and Oli McBurnie shake hands after the final whistle.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke (right) and Oli McBurnie shake hands after the final whistle.

The Sheffield United player earned his 14th cap in place of the suspended Lyndon Dykes. His latest appearance is only the sixth time he has started for Scotland, but he played the full 90 minutes of the Nations League loss in Trnava.

Despite the continued lack of a goal, Clarke stressed McBurnie had delivered a “good performance” because he held the ball up well and won headers.

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McBurnie’s frustrations in front of goal continued despite hopes his composed penalty finish in Thursday’s dramatic Euro 2020 play-off win against Serbia might have helped his confidence levels. The striker took heavy touches on two occasions in the first half when given the chance to open his account and saw a header saved by in-from goalkeeper Marek Rodak. The online judgement was again harsh from Scotland fans watching at home.

“I’m looking at Oli’s overall game, what was Oli on the pitch for?” said Clarke. “He was there to hold the ball up. He was on the pitch to win his headers. He was on the pitch to allow Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong to get up and support him. And all that happened. So, it was a good performance.

“He could maybe have got his shot away a little bit quicker in the first-half, but then that was also good defending. Listen, the big man just has to keep believing. He just needs to keep working as hard as he did in this game and the goals will come.

“I can’t speak about criticism he’s getting on social media, but I can tell you he’s got the support of everyone in the camp. And he knows that. Listen, a goal would change things for any forward who is on a run of matches without goals. If he could get one sooner rather than later that would be better for him. But he’s got plenty of support from inside the camp.

“The squad is tight-knit - you don’t go on the run we were on without that - and everyone is together,” added Clarke. “We win together and we lose together and unfortunately tonight was a loss. But in football that happens and there’s definitely a way to lose. This is not a backward step.”

Scotland now travel to face Israel in Netanya on Wednesday night in their last group game. Skipper Andy Robertson sat out against Slovakia after feeling his hamstring tighten against Serbia as Clarke made eight changes to the side that created history in Belgrade. Although Liverpool face an important clash against top-of-the-league Leicester City this weekend, the manager hoped Robertson would return against Israel.

“There were three or four players who could have done with another 24 hours, just to get their recovery right,” said Clarke. “The game came a little too soon for them.

“Andy was probably a little bit worse than the rest, which is why I left him out. It would have been too big a risk. But he’s coming to Israel so we’ll assess him over there and hopefully get him on the pitch. That would be good as we’d like our captain on the pitch.”

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