Well, we’re two games into the Steve Clarke era at Hampden Park. Cyprus and Belgium offered two very different challenges for the team, so let’s take a look at how Scotland faired in their first steps towards a rare appearance at a major tournament.
There was a fresh wave of optimism after McLeish’s departure, and the general theme was “well, at least it can’t get any worse”.
In hindsight, fans should’ve been a bit more realistic with their optimism.
It’s a bit like waking up in hospital after getting hit by a bus isn’t it – no, it’s not going to get any worse, but you’re not exactly going to be running a marathon next week either.
It’s going to be a case of slow and steady wins the race for Scotland as we look to rebuild, but has there been any progress over the last week?
Firstly, Clarke has already shown he’s not afraid to mix it up a bit with his squad selections, bringing in several of his players from Kilmarnock. They’re players who know him and his systems but, more importantly, they’re also players who have been bang in form and come off the back of strong seasons. Not sticking with the same old bunch just because they’re the norm is going to be of benefit to us in the longer term.
Unfortunately, there’s also a strong argument that Clarke’s fresh recruits are just not good enough.
Does playing week in and week out against Hamilton, Dundee and St Mirren prepare you for life at international level? Probably not.
No one expects Stephen O’Donnell to pocket Eden Hazard, but at the same time we need to be competing with lower ranked nations, most of which still have squads full of players who play at that level domestically.
Stephen O'Donnell is the type of player you want to be good enough for us…… But he's not, nowhere near it.
— Buddy Gall 社会主義者 (@TheGallatron) June 10, 2019
One conspiracy – based on the theory of Clarke’s bold selections – was that Scotland had simply tried to confuse Belgium with such a bizarre XI that their game plan would collapse. A trick worth trying, in my opinion, but ultimately it didn’t work and the fans didn’t find it funny.
Good joke. Announce the actual line up
— Cameron McPheat (@cmcpheat79) June 11, 2019
It’s been fairly clear to anyone watching that Clarke’s side is more organised and has a better structure to it – not that it was hard to beat McLeish, who organised his team by sneezing on the tactic board and seeing where the markers landed.
Is being well organised enough though, or is this simply Clarke’s foundation to build on?
Clarke: "Go ahead. Batten down the hatches some more."
Mulgrew: "My God, man. I've battened them down as far as they'll go. I cannot batten no more!" pic.twitter.com/OoGYALqFNP
— Simpsons SPFL 🏴 (@SimpsonsSPFL) June 11, 2019
Being Scotland, we always have a mistake waiting to happen. Clarke managed to avoid a typically Scottish start to his international career against Cyprus thanks to Oli Burke, but that’s a great example of how we’ve still plenty of work to do.
Belgium demonstrated on Tuesday how the top teams will punish those mistakes, whilst McKenna, Forrest and Burke demonstrated at the other end we won’t. Allowing Lukaku to score a brace tells most fans of other countries all they need to know.
It’s not great progress, but there has been progress. Getting the fans back on side and building a little bit of optimism is a great example of that, and the Tartan Army know more than most that a bit of patience is required.
Take another look in a year or two and see where Scotland sit then.