WITH a couple of minutes to go at Hampden Park last night, Steve Clarke must have been yearning for the sweet tranquility of the Rugby Park dugout, and the warm and welcoming bosom of Nutz the Squirrel. What had he let himself in for?

At least at the end of an evening that would have greyed his beard somewhat and had him wondering if a quick call to Billy Bowie could make all of this go away, he had three points and a win. To quote the latest Scottish FA marketing wheeze, nothing matters more.

The Scotland support had breezed into Hampden dreaming of a revolution. What they got for long spells of the night was a healthy dose of realism. A match that started amid a buoyant atmosphere deteriorated to being played out to a backdrop of boos by half-time. And as Scotland then huffed and puffed at the start of the second half, one wag was moved to cry ‘get the wummin’s team on’. Thankfully, Shelley Kerr and co weren’t required to salvage the situation.

For that, Clarke was able to rely on his captain, and the perhaps unlikelier source of Oliver Burke late on. Andy Robertson will have had worse weeks. In the past seven days, he has pocketed a Champions League winners medal for Liverpool, spent a couple of days drinking Merseyside dry before sobering up in time to lash home a screamer for his country. And when his goal arrived just after the hour, by God was it needed.

Hampden was far from packed to the rafters at the start, but the optimism and enthusiasm was brimming over from the Tartan Army as a healthier than expected crowd of over 30,000 bounced into the national stadium to witness the rebirth of their side.

Certainly, the starting line-up had a fresh feeling about it, as just three men from the side who started in the calamitous defeat to Kazakhstan under Alex McLeish survived the cull.

The first half was an exercise in patience though as the players got to grips with their 4-3-3 formation and what their new manager was asking of them. There were positives, such as the axis of Robertson, Callum McGregor and Ryan Fraser down the left-hand side, but Clarke would have noted some areas of concern too.

For all that Fraser was getting into great positions, his final ball was uncharacteristically lacking in quality, and a lot of that came from lone striker Eamonn Brophy finding space hard to come by against three defenders who all stood at least a foot taller than him.

At the back too, there were moments of consternation as the Cypriots showed that they were slick on the counter and were able to trouble a backline that creaked on more than one occasion.

The start of the second half was worrying as Cyprus took hold of the game somewhat at Hampden. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

But when the nation needed a hero, their leader stepped up to the plate. It looked as though John McGinn had chosen the wrong option when he refused a pass that would have played McGregor in, instead shifting the ball left for Robertson to stride onto. But the skipper strolled forward, took a touch, then unleashed a rocket into the top corner that Urko Pardo just about got a hand to on the way back out.

If that wasn’t entirely unexpected from the superstar left-back, the humbler option at right-back almost pulled a surprise by getting himself through on goal at the end of a swift counter before placing the ball wide.

Then, with just a few minutes to go, a familiar feeling enveloped the Hampden crowd. Disaster for Scotland.

A simple corner floated into the Scotland box, and Robertson of all people dropped his man to allow Ioannis Kousoulos to steal in and place a free header beyond Marshall.

Clarke stood as motionless as his defence. But a move he had made some 15 minutes prior was about to save his opening night.

At long, long last, a Fraser cross from the left found a target, with the added height provided by Burke proving critical as he rose to glance a header off the inside of the right-hand post. Sometimes, you need a bit of luck in this game, and Clarke, Burke and Scotland got it as the ball fell directly back to the West Brom man with the goal at his mercy. And sweet mercy was delivered for Clarke and a fraught Tartan Army.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and from where this Scotland side were, they weren’t going to be transformed into the 1970 Brazil side overnight. Strap yourself in Steve. There’s no going back now.