Scotland team for Cyprus: New caps, formation, goals issue and where Hearts and Hibs players now rank
The national coach must select a new and uncapped goalkeeper, decide whether to retain a three-man defence, which midfield combination will work best against the Cypriots, and who should carry goalscoring responsibilities in attack. The first European Championship qualifier offers the opportunity for a strong start before Spain visit Glasgow on Tuesday.
Clarke generally favours a back three with Scotland. Calling up Blackburn Rovers defender Dominic Hyam and Celtic right-back Anthony Ralston after losing Club Brugge’s Jack Hendry to injury would indicate he intends to stick with that formula. It seems a choice between Hyam and Watford’s Ryan Porteous on the right of the three, with Grant Hanley expected to be centre and Kieran Tierney left.
Hyam is one of the strongest defenders in England’s Championship, winning 80 per cent of tackles and completing 85 per cent of passes. He is a former Scotland Under-21 internationalist, predominantly right-footed but plays left centre-back in Blackburn’s four-man rearguard. At 27, this is his first full international involvement.
Porteous only joined Watford from Hibs in January and is understandably still adjusting to England. He enjoyed an outstanding Scotland debut against Ukraine in last September’s 0-0 draw, helping secure top place in Nations League Group B1 and a Euro 2024 play-off spot.
Who plays behind the chosen defenders is one of the most crucial aspects following Craig Gordon’s injury. Norwich City’s Angus Gunn is a new call-up after switching allegiance from England to the country of his father, former Scotland goalkeeper Bryan. Zander Clark of Hearts and Motherwell’s Liam Kelly are the other contenders. None of the three possess a senior international cap.
Gunn is favourite for the No.1 position. Having previously trained with England and played in the Premier League, his top-level experience eclipses Clark’s and Kelly’s. When the Scotland manager travels south asking you to join his squad – knowing you rejected a previous Scottish FA offer in 2018 – he doesn’t see you as a substitute.
Captain Andy Robertson is the only shout for left wing-back. On the right, Everton’s Nathan Patterson hasn’t played competitively since January 3 due to a knee problem. Aaron Hickey is a consistent performer at right-back for Brentford and can therefore boast fitness and form in that position.
Celtic’s Callum McGregor and Aston Villa’s John McGinn are automatic starters in midfield, which realistically leaves Manchester United’s Scott McTominay, Stuart Armstrong of Southampton, Bologna’s Lewis Ferguson or Rangers’ Ryan Jack competing for the other slot. If McGinn is deployed as an advanced midfielder, McTominay or Jack are most likely to partner McGregor just behind him.
In attack, Queens Park Rangers striker Lyndon Dykes is fit after being hospitalised with pneumonia. His partnership with Southampton’s Ché Adams bore fruit for Scotland previously. Bournemouth’s Ryan Christie could be paired with one of the two, but either way goals are an issue.
McGinn is the squad’s top goalscorer with 15 from 52 caps, while Dykes boasts eight from 26 appearances. The rest have five goals each or less. What this international gathering has reaffirmed for Edinburgh supporters is that Hibs striker Kevin Nisbet and Hearts captain Lawrence Shankland remain firmly back-up forwards despite productive club form.
Clarke benefits from a settled group hoping to transfer last year’s Nations League form into the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. He knows the stakes are high for whoever plays.