HAVING to negotiate a must-win Euro 2020 qualifier against Cyprus in his first match as Scotland manager was far from ideal for Steve Clarke.

The flaws in his team’s performance at Hampden on Saturday evening, and there were a few, can be excused given that he only had five days to work with his new players in the build-up to the crucial Group I fixture. Recording a win was the most important thing and three points were duly delivered.

Yet, his opening game in charge of his country will be a breeze in comparison with his second outing – a daunting encounter with Belgium in the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels tomorrow evening.

Clarke is adamant Scotland can take something from the meeting with opponents who finished third at the Russia 2018 finals last year and currently occupy top spot in the FIFA world rankings.

Adopting that kind of positive approach to a difficult away game certainly enabled Kilmarnock to compete with Celtic at Parkhead and Rangers at Ibrox during his time at Rugby Park. But can it work with Scotland? Or is his optimism misplaced?

Here we look at five things Andy Robertson and his team mates can take heart from going into the showdown.


Dropping Scott Bain was a huge call by Clarke. Bain has been in exceptional form for Celtic in the second half of the season. His displays for Scotland against Kazakhstan and San Marino were also fine.

Marshall’s last start for his country before the weekend had been in the Russia 2018 qualifier against Slovakia way back in the October of 2016 when he had shipped three goals in a 3-0 defeat.

But the logic behind his reinstatement, as well as the decision to play Charlie Mulgrew ahead of John Souttar, was sound. The head coach felt the duo’s experience would be invaluable and so it proved. Both men acquitted themselves well.

Marshall had a fair bit to do. He denied Nicholas Ioannou and Pieros Sotiriou in the first-half and then Matija Spoljaric and Antreas Makris in the second. He could not be faulted for the late goal his side conceded.

The Hull City man, who has been linked with a summer move to Champions League winners Liverpool, will retain his place against Belgium.


The Liverpool defender may have become one of the best left backs in world football since moving to Anfield two years ago. But his displays for Scotland since have often left much to be desired. He has struggled to replicate his club form with his country.

That could be down to not having the same quality of player around about him or it might be due to the three man back line that McLeish experimented with. Whatever the reason, the 25-year-old frequently disappointed.

But on Saturday evening he was at his very best. He dovetailed beautifully with Ryan Fraser ahead of him, got upfield far more often and opened the scoring with a stunning long-range strike after an hour.

Yes, he was at fault for the Cyprus goal. It was, though, hard to be overly critical of his showing. If this is how good he is after just three days under Clarke then what can we expect going forward?


The former Newcastle United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa assistant admitted before the Cyprus game that he was minded to tweak his starting line-up for the Belgium match.

Freshening up his XI for the final game of the 2018/19 campaign should ensure fatigue doesn’t result in a subdued and substandard showing. Stuart Armstrong, Oliver Burke, Tom Cairney, Scott McTominay and John Souttar could all come in.


The way Scotland ground down resilient rivals and responded to conceding a late goal showed the sort of desire and togetherness that Clarke successfully fostered in his squad at Kilmarnock.

The national team face a torrid evening against the best international side on the planet tomorrow. They will need those qualities in abundance to take something from the 90 minutes.

This country is never better than when they have been written off. It is asking a lot for them to take even a point against the section favourites and leaders. There will, though, be no shortage of effort.


Despite his delight at the victory over Cyprus, the Scotland manager acknowledged there was room for improvement. His team lacked ruthlessness in the final third. In midfield their play was often disjointed. They gifted the visitors way too many chances at the back and almost paid a heavy price.

But the 55-year-old immediately vowed to address why the right side of his side had been less effective than the left, identify who was at fault for the goal and rest those he felt had lacked energy at the end of a long and wearying campaign.

The beginning of his reign augurs well for the future.