Scotland wary of Republic of Ireland backlash as they chase consecutive Nations League wins
But look a little closer and you’ll see some surprising results amid the 1-1 draws with Azerbaijan and Serbia, such as the narrow 2-1 defeat by Portugal in the Algarve, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice late on to break Irish hearts, or a 2-2 draw with a not-too-understrength Belgium side.
It is these sorts of scorelines that Scotland boss Steve Clarke is wary of ahead of the second Nations League group match in the Irish capital, despite Stephen Kenny’s side losing their last two matches to Ukraine and Armenia without scoring.
"If you look at both games, and I have looked at both games, they lost them both by one goal. There wasn’t a lot in the games,” Clarke points out.
"You could argue that they had chances in both matches to take something out of the games. Previous to the two defeats they had a really good run of eight games unbeaten – which is a really good run for anyone.
"I keep talking us up because we can go on runs of eight or nine games – and Ireland’s run of eight games included good opponents like Portugal and Belgium. They are a good team.”
Clarke has a point. Since June 2018, the Republic have lost just three matches by more than one goal. The Boys in Green’s struggles in front of goal have been well documented but there is a feeling that results don’t tell the whole story.
“They have played two games and lost both games. But they have lost both games narrowly. In football it could have gone slightly the other way. We expect a tough game,” Clarke continues.
"We will go to Dublin, we will try to play as well as we can and try to get points that will take us into the next game. When we have finished this camp we can have a look and see what the points tally is and look forward to the games in September.
"They’ll want to try and get a foothold in the group so the next games are meaningful for them rather than being in a position where the group has already run away from them.”
For midfielder John McGinn, who grew up watching a swashbuckling Irish team reach major finals on a regular basis, he is wary of the tide turning. He also suggested that the situation Ireland find themselves in at the moment is not too dissimilar to Scotland’s experiences some years ago.
“Watching them growing up, they were a team making major tournaments and I’m sure they’ll come back again. These things seem to happen in cycles and the Irish team is going to through a tough time at the minute,” the Aston Villa man adds.
“But at the end of the day their pride to play for their country will always come out on top. They’ll be wounded [after back-to-back defeats] but they’re certainly a team that can hurt us. If we start slacking and turn up there thinking we’re going to turn up in what is essentially and unofficially a derby match, we’ll certainly get stung.
“Ireland’s situation sort of reminds us of where we were at maybe a few years ago. We know they’ll be hurting. We know they’ll be looking for a reaction, but we’ve always had our eye on nine points from these three games.
“We’ll be disappointed if it’s not but we are certainly more than capable of doing it that would set us up for an exciting September.
“We want to get comfortable with the top teams in Europe and promotion to the the top tier of the Nations League would allow us to do that and improve again."
Scotland haven’t had the same issues in attack as the Irish and Clarke, who will be without Liam Cooper, Zander Clark, and Lewis Ferguson in Dublin, insists he doesn’t mind where the goals are coming from – so long as his team are scoring more than their opponents.
Southampton striker Che Adams scored four goals in dark blue last year but is yet to find the net in four appearances in 2022 and while the national team boss accepts that can be frustrating for a forward, he insists the 25-year-old is not under any additional pressure.
“If we always score one more than the opposition I’m always going to be reasonably happy,” Clarke explains.
"We did create a number of good chances against Armenia and I always believe that if you create chances the goals follow. So if we can create enough chances in the next two games, I’m sure the goals will come.
“Che’s quite good in that he understands his role in the team. He is a striker and obviously he likes to score goals but it’s not always about that. It doesn’t matter who is scoring the goals as long as he is contributing to the team.
"We never put anybody under pressure by telling them they need to score goals. That’s the not way we work.
“If the goals are coming from different sources and Che is doing a great job for the team, then that’s fine.”
McGinn, who so nearly added to his international tally against Ukraine last week, insists full focus is on the match in Dublin.
“We need to put all our energies in to getting to Germany in 2024. We’ve been here before and we know how important the Nations League can be. If you take your foot off the gas there will be more regrets down the line.
“If we get three points against Ireland it set us up nicely for Armenia.”