SCOTLAND manager Steve Clarke has admitted he will find it difficult to hand Steven Naismith and John Souttar call-ups for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel if they aren’t playing competitively for Hearts.

The rescheduled match is scheduled to be played in Glasgow on Thursday, October 8, but the Championship, which is only set to comprise 27 games next season due to the coronavirus pandemic, won’t get underway until nine days after that.

Naismith played up front for Clarke in the national team’s qualifying wins over Cyprus away, a match he won his 50th cap in, and Kazakhstan, who he scored his 10th international goal against, at home last season.

His Tynecastle team mate Souttar has been sidelined with an Achilles injury since February, but the centre half, who has won three caps for his country in the past, is poised to return soon.

Clarke didn’t dismiss the chances of both players, who will play for Hearts in the second tier in the 2020/21 campaign after the Gorgie club were relegated earlier this month, being involved in the semi-final altogether. 

But he said: “It's going to be difficult to select them if they haven't been playing matches. I've learned quite quickly not to rule anyone in or out too soon. We'll wait and see what the situation is.

“Everyone's hoping the situation with Hearts is resolved as quickly as possible then I can have a conversation with Steven and John and find out where they're at and where they think they'll be come September/October.”

Clarke, though, stressed that he would have no issues involving Naismith and Souttar after that, including in the play-off final in November if Scotland get through, even though they are playing their club football in the Championship.

“I don’t have a problem if their own games are at a good level,” he said. “Last year I called Lawrence Shankland into the squad because he was scoring goals in the Championship. You can’t rule them out because they’re playing in the Championship.”

The Premier League down south might not get underway until after the Nations League game against Israel on September 4. But the fact the likes of John Fleck, Oliver McBurnie, John McGinn, Kenny McLean, Scott McTominay and Kieran Tierney are currently in action could see them feature. Naismith and Souttar won’t have played competitively in seven months.

“When we come into the September games a lot of the English boys are still going to be in pre-season,” said Clarke. “I don't think the English Premier is scheduled to start until the weekend after the first set of internationals.

“It's going to be a little bit of a mixed bag, between guys who are fully fit, not quite fit, not quite match-fit. So it's going to be a little bit different going into those September fixtures. But we'll be ready.”

The prospect of having McGinn, McTominay and Tierney, who were doubtful starters for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Israel back in March before the coronavirus outbreak due to injury but are now fit and playing in the Premier League in England, is heartening for Clarke. 

“It's been nice to see all the boys back on the pitch,” he said. “I want everyone available. As an international manager you quickly realise that you probably won't have everyone available. But you want all your best players there and you want everyone coming up fit and well.”

Lyndon Dykes, the Livingston striker who is eligible to play for both Australia and Scotland, could be involved too after holding further positive talks with the former Chelsea and Liverpool assistant.  “I'd be hopeful without being presumptuous that he could choose us,” said Clarke. “You never know.”

It will be a shock, however, if Robert Snodgrass is part of the set-up. The national team manager was surprised when the West Ham forward stated that he would consider coming out of international retirement last week. The player only decided not to make himself available for selection back in October. 

“It’s not that long ago that Snoddy phoned me up and said he didn’t want to be selected,” said Clarke. “Ryan Christie and James Forrest had done well in the games, so I am not sure that one is a goer.”

Scotland will play Israel, who are looking for a new head coach following the departure of Andi Herzog this week, in the Nations League before their Euro 2020 semi-final play-off due to the rescheduling of matches.

“They will have a different coach who will have different ideas and maybe a different way of playing,” said Clarke. “From that point of view it might be interesting. It might be that they could play a totally different team or throw up a smokescreen and try to prepare only for the play-off game.

“Listen we will just deal with the game as it is. For me those two games in September are important to get us thinking the way they were thinking when they left the camp in November - positive, taking on board the messages we gave them. I thought in November they gave two decent performances that give us some hope going into the next group of games.”

Clarke expects to have Alex Dyer, who was confirmed as Kilmarnock’s permanent manager this month, alongside him in the dugout next season.

“There are previous instances of club managers being assistant managers of Scotland,” he said.  “Stuart McCall, for example. It’s a conversation I need to have with Alex and Alex will also need to have conversations with Kilmarnock to see it’s a good and sensible solution. I know Alex is really keen to stay involved, which is great, and I’m really keen to keep him.”