HAMPDEN will once again be far from its 52,000 capacity this evening despite the game against Cyprus being vital to Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals not to mention Steve Clarke’s first as manager.

Clarke, though, is determined to increase the number of fans who file through the turnstiles to cheer on their country in future as well as resurrect the ailing fortunes of the national team.

Being a coach in the international game is a new experience for the former Newcastle United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa assistant. He confessed he had found his first week with his players to be different to what he is used to. “There has probably been more talking than I normally do on the training pitch and more meetings than I would normally have,” he said.

But one aspect of his role will be exactly the same as it was in club football – if his side wins matches and enjoys success then their crowds will go up as a result.

The Ayrshireman certainly got the good folk of Kilmarnock flocking back to Rugby Park in their droves during his two seasons in charge; over 10,000 turned up to see their boys beat Rangers 2-1 in their final Ladbrokes Premiership game last month and secure a place in Europe for the first time in 18 years.

The 55-year-old believes if he can end over two decades of failure then that will be reflected in the level of backing his charges receive.

“I am pretty sure it won’t be a sell-out on Saturday night,” said Clarke. “But our job as a group is to make sure we get the win we need so that when we come back here (Scotland take on Russia and Belgium at Hampden in September) we get more fans for the two big matches against the so-called big teams in the group.

“If we can get a good points total out of the next two games the supporters will come back. You know football supporters, if your team is successful you get more people coming in.

“The Tartan Army is maybe a little reduced in numbers at the moment, but if the team is winning and it looks as if the team is going to have a chance of qualifying then the supporters will be there.”

Clarke is certainly confident that he has enough talent at his disposal for Scotland to recover from the disappointing start they made to their Euro 2020 campaign – they were thrashed 3-0 by Kazakhstan and struggled to beat minnows San Marino 2-0 back in March – and reach their first major tournament since France ’98.

He has been encouraged by both the enthusiasm and ability of the likes of Ryan Fraser, Callum McGregor and Scott McTominay, not to mentioned newly-crowned Champions League winner Andy Robertson, and is convinced that progressing to the finals is still an attainable objective.

“It has been really good,” he said. “When Andy joined the group a little bit later than everyone else after his fantastic achievement and celebrations with Liverpool he got a great round of applause when he walked into the dining room which was nice. It showed that the lads had appreciated what he had done, what he had achieved.

“There is a positive feel about the camp. We have the Celtic boys, with their three trophies, John McGinn and Kenny McLean with promotion to the Premier League. There is all this positive feeling in the camp.

“I think there has been a bit of positivity with my appointment, so they tell me. We have to try and harness that and as a group take it forward. Listen, I am not naïve or silly enough not to know that the next step is to get the result. We have to get the points, hopefully with a great performance. But if we just get the points then the positivity will continue and we will move on.”

Clarke added: “I think the negativity, or the perception of negativity, is obvious when you are not involved in it. The pleasing thing for me was, when I got the players together, I didn’t feel a negativity.

“They know that they haven’t quite shown the qualities they’ve got on the pitch, but they understand within the group that there’s more than enough talent there to be competitive at international level.

“This is what we have to do - in the short term and in the long term – to turn things around. We have to put it on the grass out there, home and away, and we have to get to the stage where everybody feels we can get a result.”

What formation Clarke uses and who he plays up front in the absence of both Leigh Griffiths and Steven Naismith will be interesting to see. He was giving little away yesterday.

“I’m confident I’ve got players in the squad who can create chances,” he said. “Eamonn Brophy’s a goalscorer, Marc McNulty’s a goalscorer, Oliver Burke, when he first came up the road, showed that he had the potential to be a goalscorer. He’s definitely got a different threat.”

Clarke has both played and coached at a high level in the past. But he admitted that leading Scotland out at Hampden tomorrow will, even with the stadium half-full, be the highlight of his professional career to date.

“In terms of nerves it has been okay,” he said. “I’m sure come tomorrow night I will be quite emotional. To be the manager of your national team is an honour. I will have a lot of family here, so I hope I don’t burst into tears. It is the pinnacle of my career so far. Hopefully, it goes on to be very successful.”