Steve Clarke 'mulling over' a couple of key Scotland team selections

Steve Clarke admits he has been forced into some tough decisions ahead of Scotland’s biggest game in over a decade following three successful outings last month.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke during Scotland training at Oriam on the eve of the Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Scotland manager Steve Clarke during Scotland training at Oriam on the eve of the Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The Scotland manager is “90 per cent sure” of his starting XI ahead of the Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia. He said he was “mulling over one or two decisions” to make sure he gets the balance of the team right.

The squad landed in Belgrade on the eve of the tie with Clarke set to “sleep on” those positions not yet settled in his mind. Kieran Tierney, Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong all missed the recent wins against Slovakia and Czech Republic as well as the shoot-out victory over Israel that booked the eagerly awaited appointment in Belgrade. A win ensures Scotland qualify for their first major finals since the World Cup in 1998.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We lost six of the original squad last month but the boys who came into the team didn’t let themselves down,” Clarke said. “They did very well which is why they are all in the squad again and why they are making my job difficult to pick a team.”

The returning Tierney and Christie would normally be considered automatic starts while Armstrong is starring in a Southampton side riding high in the English Premier League.

On the face of it, Clarke’s biggest dilemma is who to play at left centre-back on the assumption he will stick with his now tried and tested formula of three-at-the-back.

Tierney missed the last three Scotland games because, like Christie, he was self-isolating after coming into close contact with Armstrong, who returned a positive Covid-19 test at the start of the camp.

“That’s just the job,” Clarke said, when asked if it would be hard to leave out the likes of Tierney. “The players are all professional enough to realise that. If I have to make the tough calls then I will be judged on the result of the game and not the team that I pick, that’s normal.”

Unusually, and reflecting the significance of the match, Clarke has been hit by only two call-offs from the original 27-man squad named earlier this month.

Defender Grant Hanley and winger Ryan Fraser pulled out due to injury with the latter representing the bigger blow having scored the winner in Scotland’s last outing, against Czech Republic. “Losing Ryan Fraser caused me to rethink a little, but I’ve got really good options in the squad,” said Clarke.

The loss of Fraser and James Forrest, who is undergoing ankle surgery, has robbed Clarke of pace as well as invention. “There are lots of solutions,” he said. “I’m still an Oli McBurnie fan because I think he’s still got a lot to offer us.

“When you look at the last two games he’s hit the frame of the goal twice and you’re always thinking in the back of your mind: ‘He’s a due a goal - there’s a goal going to come from him’.

“I’ve also got Oli Burke who can give you that pace up front that Ryan gave us. Ryan Christie was also in the team and doing well for me before when he played up beside Lyndon (Dykes).”

A message from the Editor: Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.