Steve Clarke says Scotland stand-ins can make themselves 'undroppable' with Nations League victories
Steve Clarke has praised the players who came to Scotland's rescue and helped put the national side within touching distance of Euro 2020.
Scotland lost six key personnel on the eve of Thursday's play-off semi-final against Israel at Hampden, three of them - Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie - due to unforeseen Covid-19 protocols, forcing Clarke into last-minute changes to his starting line-up for the country's biggest match in years.
It was hardly the ideal preparation but it was a challenge that Clarke and his reshuffled pack overcame, albeit after an anxiety-laden 90 minutes, extra-time and penalty shoot-out, to set up a winner-takes-all tie against Serbia next month.
“Last week was certainly unique for me as a manager," Clarke said. “With the global pandemic you know that the virus could strike at any time so you've always got it at the back of your mind.
"But when you come into one of these secure bubbles where you're being tested a lot and following protocol – you start to think it won't happen to you. You look at other countries and it's happening to them but you think: 'That won't happen to us'. But obviously it can happen – and it did. But we reacted very well to it.
“And you have to compliment the players who came into the starting 11 and did so well for us.”
One of the squad members who stepped into the breach was Motherwell centre-half Declan Gallagher, who put his club's patchy start to the season aside to turn in an assured display at the heart of a back three.
“It's fair to say that Declan wasn't going to start the game initially but he came in and performed really well," Clarke said. “I wasn't worried about Declan because last November he did really well in two games for us.
“At Motherwell, his club season hasn't started that well for him. But he showed everyone the other night that he's more than capable of stepping up to help us as and when required.
“He's also made a strong case to be a starter in the matches going forward. That's what this group of players have above some very good players but who aren't currently in the squad. This group for the next two matches have a big chance to make themselves almost undroppable.”
After calling up three additions to his squad - Aberdeen duo Ross McCrorie and Andrew Considine along with Hibs right-back Paul McGinn - Clarke is considering further changes for tonight's Nations League match against Slovakia, which is followed quickly by the visit of the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
“It won’t be so much about experimentation. These guys - although they are top players who are used to playing three games in a short space of time - we have to be conscious of the workload across the three matches," he said.
“I want to try and build a really strong pool of players where everybody who goes into the starting eleven knows their jobs. So it won’t be so much about experimentation and more about trying to maintain what we’ve been doing so far.”