Under Steve Clarke Scotland can’t claim to have perfected the art of winning football games. Yet over the course of the last 12 months they’ve honed the knack of refusing to lose them.
A calendar year has now passed since the Scots shipped four goals to Russia in Moscow. This bruising win over Slovakia extended the run of games without defeat to seven and kept Clarke’s team top of their Nations League group.
In the middle of a world pandemic the importance of Nations League games is not always apparent. In recent days UEFA have faced growing calls to scrap the whole business
Lyndon Dykes scored with Scotland's first shot on target as they beat Slovakia 1-0
He continued his impressive scoring record for this season with four goals in all competitions
The striker got on the end of a Stephen O'Donnell cross to guide his finish past Dusan Kuciak
Yet for Scotland two wins and a draw in Group B2 enhance hopes of securing one of two play-off spots for the Qatar World Cup. One more win against a depleted Czech Republic at Hampden on Wednesday – without suspended captain Andrew Robertson - and and they will take some shifting.
When Clarke took the job he was asked to make a struggling team hard to beat. Under Kilmarnock’s former manager, you suspect they’ll never be pretty to watch. But Clarke managed to make the Ayrshire team a tough nut to crack and the same traits are now clear to see in Scotland’s national team.
Be it club or international football the Clarke mantra has rarely altered. ‘Stay in the game give yourself a chance’ should be printed on his calling card. The run of seven games without defeat has seen them lose just four goals. In an attacking sense they remain a work in progress, but the foundation stones are falling into place
Scotland have honed a knack of refusing to lose games with hard working performances
Scotland (3-5-2): Marshall; Gallagher; Considine; McTominay; O'Donnell; Fleck (McGregor); McGinn (Jack, 90); McLean; Robertson; Dykes (McBurnie, 72); Fraser (Paterson, 86)
Subs not used: Ross McCrorie; P McGinn; Robby McCrorie; McLaughlin; Shankland; Porteous; Taylor
Goals: Dykes (54)
Booked: Fleck; Dykes; Robertson; McBurnie
Slovakia (4-3-3): Kuciak; Koscelnik; Ninaj; Valjent; Holubek; Bero (Duda, 22); Gregus; Hamsik (Kucka, 62); Schranz (Mak, 62); Bozenik (Rusnak, 76); Haraslin (Safranko, 76)
Subs not used: Pauschek; Vavro; Rodak; Gyomber; Hrosovsky; Greif; Sabo
Booked: Hamsik; Haraslin; Kucka
Lyndon Dykes claimed his second Scotland goal in four caps – an impressive hit rate – with his second goal in four appearances after 54 minutes.
Clarke’s team secured a Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia despite failing to test Israel keeper Ofir Marciano for two hours. By the time Dykes stayed onside to calmly steer a fine Stephen O’Donnell cross low past Dusan Kuciak the drought had stretched to 175 minutes. For a suffering Tartan Army, watching on TV, the goal was overdue
Like Scotland the visitors secured a place in the Euro 2020 play-off final by overcoming Republic of Ireland on Thursday night. Like Scotland they did it the hard way, going through after a 0-0 draw, extra time and a sudden death shoot-out.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
In the midst of a world pandemic, with players dropping like flies, nights like this don’t do much for the image of international