IN a way, you could regard it as the ultimate compliment. When certain Scottish football followers accuse Andy Robertson of not playing as well for his country as he does for his club it is redolent of similar complaints levelled over the years by Argentina fans about Lionel Messi or England fans about Wayne Rooney. France fans about Paul Pogba on the other hand? Not so much.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke chides us for mentioning his age but he has been around the blocks enough to know this dance pretty well by now. Having witnessed a variation of it back in his playing days with his former Liverpool greats Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen, he knows that the best way for Robertson to silence the unfair critics who surfaced following the Euro 2020 qualifying defeats to Russia and Belgium is to start winning matches.

“Alan Hansen wasn’t good enough to play for Scotland either,” says Clarke, in typically deadpan manner. “Listen, when you don’t win matches you are going to be crucified.

“Andy is experienced enough to realise that. He is the captain and the one who gets it.

“But it is unfair. It’s unfair to single out Andy Robertson and say that he should take the criticism.

“Everyone should take the criticism. It’s a collective thing.

“I have spoken to Andy since, we had a good chat and he is fine.

“The best way to avoid the criticism is to get points, to win matches and draw matches you are expected to lose. That just makes everyone feel a little bit better.

“It’s the same in club football. Winning covers a multitude of sins.

“If you start to win matches everyone will be on board and more positive about it. they will stop talking about the players who are not selected and instead speak about the ones who are.”

It is stating the obvious, of course, to say that the players who surround Robertson at international level aren’t generally the same calibre as those he rubs shoulders with every day at Anfield. Not just that, though. Unlike club level, where you can build up a chemistry and an understanding on a daily basis, you are only getting together once a month if you are lucky.

“You have to balance all 11 players on the pitch and all three subs I use, all these 14 players have a responsibility, I have a responsibility as well,” he said. “People say he doesn't bring his Liverpool form to the Scotland team but the Scotland team isn't the Liverpool team.

“One is club football - and I know this well - where you work with players day in and day out and they find a rhythm, a connection and a confidence with the people round about them, and they go and play. With the international group it's not like that. This camp is seven days long.

“They’ll play Saturday with their club, a lot of them will play Sunday, we meet up on Monday and there’s not much we can do that day with them, or the Tuesday, and then we travel to Russia on the Wednesday, so you just don't have that time where you can get those little connections with players that you do for your club.

“That’s another reason for continuity of selection, that hopefully over a period of time the guys will turn up and say ‘you know what, I remember the last time I played with Ryan Fraser and we did this…’ and suddenly you get those little things you need to be a successful team.”

With our chances of automatic qualification hopeless, we are back into a phoney war of sorts for Scotland. While the presence of Lawrence Shankland – held scoreless in Scotland’s second tier by little Alloa Athletic on Friday night – and the remarkably still-capless John Fleck suggests a willingness to look at other options, Clarke is adamant that this is no time for experimentation. The play-offs, which will currently see us take on Bulgaria in a Hampden semi-final, then most likely Serbia or Norway in a one-off final, represent two of the biggest matches for the national team in quite some time. And he thinks it is high time this group of players show the potential he clearly feels that they have.

“I don’t think it is [the time for experimentation],” said Clarke. “I don't think this current group have shown on the pitch what they have, well enough or consistently. We’ve won one out of four, albeit two of the defeats are against the current best team in the world.

“But even at that, it’s still disappointing not to get more points than we actually got from the games because I see the talent we have and we haven't quite managed to transfer that ability onto the international stage, so we have to keep working at it.”

Most of all, Clarke wants this group of young players to come of age in Moscow against a Russia side who beat them well at Hampden only a month previously, after going behind to John McGinn’s early goal.

“It's a learning process for a lot of them. they're a little bit younger, a little bit inexperienced in international terms, so the more they play the better they should get,” says Clarke. “They should be able to realise and understand the situations in the games we saw and be able, as a collective rather than as individual players, to realise ‘right, this game’s going against us here, we need to do this, we need to dig in’.

“Sometimes in a game you just need to do that to get through the sticky patch. The funny thing about the Russia game was I actually felt we’d got through the sticky patch at the start of the second half and bang, suddenly we conceded a real soft goal. Those little moments are key and the things we need to get better at.”

While Kieran Tierney has a couple of matches under his belt at Arsenal and is likely to present Clarke with a familiar headache at left back soon enough, the former Kilmarnock manager has found room for his old Rugby Park pal Greg Taylor. Yet to appear for his new team, Taylor has found himself a victim of the excellent form which Boli Bolingoli has found in adversity.

“I know Greg is a good trainer and works well,” said Clarke. “I know he hasn’t had a chance at Celtic yet but that’s mainly down to the form of Bolingoli who has stepped up a lot since they signed Greg. But I know Greg inside out and if I had to rely on him to come in and play he wouldn’t let anybody down.

“You never know what is going to happen in football. he is one injury, one knock, a suspension away from getting a chance to play in the team. Do well when that chance comes and you can stay in the team. Football is a quickly-evolving sport. one injury can change everything.”

That applies too to Oli Burke. Now on-loan from West Brom to Alaves in Spain, Burke was omitted from the last group but is a sneaky choice to use his flaring pace up top as an out ball in Moscow. Clarke has shown an early predilection for changing his group markedly between the two games of a double header, something he is likely to continue here – with Scott McTominay suspended for the first match in Moscow.

“I haven’t caught up with Oli to be honest but he has had some minutes on the pitch. He didn’t start the last game but came off the bench and had an assist. He started the game before that. Oli gets in because of what he did for us in the summer camp. I thought he was good.

“The last time I picked the squad Oli was not playing at West Brom. He wasn’t doing anything and he was a little bit confused as to what the future was going to be. I spoke to him then and he assured me he was going to get a move and go out and play. He is out in Spain now and hopefully he gets plenty of minutes. He has good qualities and attributes and we have to find the key to Oli.”