EVENTS in Belfast on Monday night as much as in Olomouc suggested that Scotland may struggle to negotiate the Euro 2020 play-offs in the coming months and reach their first tournament finals since France ’98.

If, and it is a big if on the evidence of their laboured 2-1 win over a second string Czech Republic side, the national team defeats Israel at home in the semi-final next month they will play either Norway or Serbia away in the final.

Overcoming the former in Oslo looks to be an awfully big ask following the Scandinavians’ hugely impressive 5-1 annihilation of Northern Ireland.

If Steve Clarke’s men are unable to contain Jakub Pesek, the Slovan Liberec journeyman who scored on his international debut in the Andruv Stadium, how will they get on shackling Erling Haaland, the Borussia Dortmund sensation who netted a double at Windsor Park?

But Clarke, whose side triumphed 2-1 thanks to a first-half Lyndon Dykes strike and a second-half Ryan Christie penalty and moved to the top of Group B2, clearly has much work to do if Scotland are to beat Israel never mind Norway or Serbia.

So how does the manager ensure Andy Robertson and his team mates are composed at the back, creative in midfield and clinical in attack come Hampden on October 8? Here are five things which he could try.


Clarke was quite correct to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation against Israel on Friday night. It allowed him to get both Kieran Tierney and Robertson into his starting line-up. The Arsenal man played on the left side of the back three and his Liverpool counterpart was deployed as a wing back.

The head coach was, in the main, pleased with how his defence performed in their first competitive outing in over nine months after just three training sessions together despite the 1-1 draw. Tierney in particular did well.

However, against a hastily cobbled together Czech side this week the players looked uncomfortable with the system that had been described as “alien” in the build-up, not least when Pesek waltzed in to their box and slotted home an early opener, and they gifted their opponents a plethora of chances.

Only an inspired performance by goalkeeper David Marshall spared his country from the ignominy of a draw or even a defeat.

Reverting to a four man rearguard in the 4-2-3-1 set-up he favoured previously, even if it meant Tierney playing inside Robertson at centre half or at right back once again, would give rival teams far fewer open spaces to exploit and lead to a less fraught evening.


The Manchester United player has the height – he stands 6ft 4in in his adidas X 19.1 cleats – as well as the football intelligence to play at centre half.

Moving him back into his defence against Israel meant that Clarke could involve Ryan Jack, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and John McGinn, his first choice midfielders, in proceedings.

Yet, the 23-year-old clearly lacks the experience to play in the specialist position at international level at the moment. He failed to deal with an Eli Dasa cross against Israel and gifted the Czechs a free-kick in a dangerous area with a clumsy foul on Stanislav Tecl.

He may well improve in time with games. But selecting Liam Cooper or Declan Gallagher alongside Scott McKenna would probably be better for the play-off matches. There is no margin for error.

McTominay has much to offer his adopted homeland in the centre of the park even if fielding him there would mean Jack would probably be left on the bench.


The standout Scottish success story of the Nations League double header against Israel and the Czech Republic was undoubtedly Lyndon Dykes.

Given that the Australian-born Queens Park Rangers forward only committed himself to this country during the summer and only made his debut due to injuries to Oliver McBurnie and Lawrence Shankland, his displays were remarkable.

The former Livingston man worked hard, dropped deep, asked questions of the opposition defenders, won balls in the air and scored a fine striker’s goal on Monday night. His lively and mature performances augur well for the future.

Leigh Griffiths, McBurnie, Steven Naismith and Shankland may well be available for the play-offs. But Dykes has to start.


The extended football shutdown had a definite impact on Scotland’s underwhelming performances against both Israel and the Czech Republic.

It is to be hoped that Clarke’s sizeable Premier League contingent, most of whom hadn’t played in weeks before the Nations League double, will be far sharper when the Israel game rolls around after several matches at club level.

Clarke must put his faith in individuals who have been performing regularly and consistently well on a weekly basis, not simply those who have done well for him in the past.


Being able to allow a limited number of fans back in to Hampden for the play-off semi-final is completely outwith Clarke’s control. It depends on the coronavirus pandemic, the Scottish government and UEFA.

But the former Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle United assistant felt the lack of atmosphere at the Israel match was detrimental to his charges’ display. He should, then, ensure the SFA do everything in their power to get even a limited number of socially distanced supporters through the turnstiles.

Aberdeen and Ross County getting the go-ahead from Holyrood yesterday to stage test events on Saturday is hopefully a step in the right direction.