Euro 2020 qualifier
Scotland hit new low as Clarke struggles to make impact
Fight: Steve Clarke (pic: SNS Group)
Russia 4 Scotland 0
It’s a long way from Kilmarnock to Moscow but as he watched another hapless Scotland display, boss Steve Clarke could have been forgiven for casting his mind back to his successful spell in Ayrshire, 2000 miles away.
The 56-year-old was given the job of succeeding Alex McLeish in May this year after revitalising the Rugby Park side during a superb season-and-a-half in charge.
While he knew he faced a tough challenge to turn around the fortunes of the ailing national team, it’s doubtful if he realised just how big a task was in front of him.
Just five games into his tenure, Clarke has overseen four defeats as the Scots’ hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2020 nosedived.
Of course, there remains a path to the finals via the Nations League play-offs next year but on this form who would put money on Scotland making the most of this opportunity?
Prior to kick-off in the Luzhniki Stadium, the manager spoke of building momentum to take into the March tie but after this morale-sapping defeat, there are just three games left in the group in which to create any kind of positivity.
San Marino – beaten 9-0 by Belgium – are the only team below Scotland in Group I and are next up at Hampden Park on Sunday. In reality, though, just how much can be gained by defeating one of the worst teams in world football?
November then sees the campaign conclude with a trip to Cyprus, currently four points ahead of the Scots, and a home meeting with Kazakhstan.
So far there has been little sign of Clarke improving the national team, his five games in charge seeing 14 goals conceded with just three scored.
Scotland have now lost four successive matches for the first time since Berti Vogts’ ill-fated time in charge in 2004.
The Tartan Army will no doubt cling onto the hope Clarke can weave his magic just as he did at Kilmarnock but there are no quick fixes and there promises to be swathes of empty seats at the National Stadium on Sunday.
The squad is short on quality and thanks to four Russian goals in the space of 27 second-half minutes, now bereft of confidence.
“We can’t keep conceding goals,” said Clarke. “You have to give a nod of your head to the quality opposition we’ve played recently – Belgium and Russia – two very good teams who I’m sure will be involved in the latter stages of Euro 2020.
“For us it’s to try and make sure this is the very, very bottom of the lowest and then build from here and make sure come March we’re able to be very competitive and get through the play-offs to give ourselves a chance to be in the same championships.
“I think in all the games we’ve played there have been moments where you can see what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to get to. But, obviously, the results are dreadful. There’s no getting away from that. I’m not going to hide behind that, we have to do better.
“We have to make sure as a group of people working together we keep improving. And like I say this is the lowest of the low. I was brought up the hard way, I’m in for the fight and I think the players are in for the fight, too.”
Scotland: Marshall, Devlin, Mulgrew, Robertson, Palmer, McGinn, Snodgrass, Fleck (Armstrong, 81), Fraser (Christie, 68), McGregor, Burke (Shankland, 46).
Goals: Russia – Dzyuba (57, 70), Ozdoev (60), Golovin (84).
Other Group I results: Belgium 9 San Marino 0, Kazakhstan 1 Cyprus 2.