As grim as any small-screen drama, Scotland fail to entertain or impress

Clarke has work to do - but Shankland's late cameo may earn him a starring role at Euros
Shankland, Tierney, Hendry and Patterson leave the pitch looking dejected.Shankland, Tierney, Hendry and Patterson leave the pitch looking dejected.
Shankland, Tierney, Hendry and Patterson leave the pitch looking dejected.

How would the most famous Northern Irish TV character of recent years put it? Ah yes, you can just imagine Line of Duty’s careworn Ted Hastings, played by Aidan Dunbar with a sense of exasperation that could be modelled on our own Steve Clark, surveying the wreckage of Scotland’s recent friendly campaign and declaring: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the wee donkey …”

In truth, of course, even Superintendent Hastings would have taken a break from pursuing bent coppers to celebrate at Hampden last night. Never mind that Northern Ireland were about as stodgy as an Ulster fry. They deserved their one-nil victory over Scotland. And that must be a concern for Clarke.

Even Ted Hastings would have been smiling at Hampden. Honest.Even Ted Hastings would have been smiling at Hampden. Honest.
Even Ted Hastings would have been smiling at Hampden. Honest.
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Not the result, exactly. Not even the performance, taken as a one-off indicator of form and ability. As many have pointed out, Scotland just don’t do friendlies. Never have. Probably never will.

But seven games without a win is one awfully long blip. If not quite the sound of a team flat-lining, then at least a warning tone that shouldn’t be ignored.

At the conclusion of our penultimate international camp before kicking of Euro 2024 in the opening fixture against hosts Germany, it feels like a good time for checkup. Let’s look at the State of Play (another TV reference for older readers) heading into the summer:

Northern Ireland are not Germany

Sounds obvious. And it might be worrying. But the good news is that no-one we face at the Euros will ever play like Northern Ireland did at Hampden.

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Sure, some will sit off and look to invite Scotland on to them. But we’re not going to have 82 per cent possession – a statistic rendered pointless when the opposition don’t WANT the ball – against anyone.

This was a Scottish Premiership match. An arm wrestle disguised as football. Not all that relevant to how we’ll fare in Germany.

But results do matter

These players need to remember what winning feels like. Because it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. The late collapse against Netherlands could be shrugged off. So could losing a slog at home to a team of dogged battlers who made their own luck.

At some point, though, it’s important for the squad to build some confidence. On to Gibraltar in the Algarve and Finland back at Hampden, then, with high hopes and a song in our hearts …

Shankland’s on the plane … and might start

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You know the old joke about the two guys reacting to being chased by a cheetah? Yeah, the one where the guy being mocked for stopping to put on his trainers says: “Mate, I only need to outrun you …”

Shankland’s the fella pulling on his gutties. To get a start against Germany, he only has to make himself a better option than Lyndon Dykes or Che Adams. At the moment, he is. But you'd like him to take some of these chances, right?

Stick or twist?

Look, no-one is pretending that Nathan Patterson had a great night. But he’s the most obvious back-up at right wingback or right back, should Aaron Hickey be missing. And, while he’s not playing for Everton, Clarke is doing the smart thing by giving him game time.

As loyal as Clarke might be to some of his time-served squad members, though, one or two could have played their way out of his plans. Liam Cooper, possibly?

What’s the plan?

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The 3-4-2-1 has been Clarke’s go-to formation, his fallback position, for many, many reasons. A lot of coaches swear by a shape that can be as attacking or defensive as you like, automatically generates a midfield overload – and is relatively easy to teach.

We saw enough in Amsterdam, before the late flurry of Dutch goals, to suggest that it will work at the Euros. And if it allows Clarke to get both Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney on the park, stick with it. KT was the best player on the park last night.

Are we flexible enough to switch to something with a flat back four? Not with those central defenders. Put Ryan Porteous back in, and maybe you have a chance.

At least we aren’t getting carried away …

Even handsome victories in our final two friendlies are now unlikely to have the Tartan Army indulging in some Argentina ’78-style flight of fancy about beating the best of Europe with our swaggering brand of gallus brilliance. So there’s that.

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Whatever happens in the next 79 days, Scotland will head to Germany determined to give a good account of themselves. With everyone fit and in form, something mad might happen. If it doesn’t, well, what did you expect?