Scotland’s Steve Clarke admits selection balancing act against Ireland

‘We’ve got decisions to make on a few,’ says manager ahead of crucial game at Hampden Park

Steve Clarke has admitted he faces a balancing act between managing game time for key players such as Kieran Tierney and guiding Scotland through a crucial match against the Republic of Ireland.

Should Scotland claim at least a point at Hampden Park on Saturday, it is likely that a draw against Ukraine in Poland on Tuesday would seal top spot in group B1 of the Nations League. Playing three games inside a week — Scotland beat Ukraine in Glasgow on Wednesday — raises selection issues for Clarke.

Tierney missed the latter stages of last season for club and country through injury. Jack Hendry, who started at centre back in midweek, has played only seven minutes for his club in this campaign. Stuart Armstrong has generally been a substitute at Southampton.

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”We’ve got decisions to make on a few,” Clarke said. “Kieran on minutes on the pitch, Jack on minutes on the pitch, Stuart on minutes on the pitch. So there are decisions to be made. This is only the second day of recovery so although it’s also the day before the game, we’re still recovering.

”In terms of physical preparation, Ireland will have had the better week as they’ve had a clear week to prepare while ourselves and Ukraine are playing catchup. We don’t complain because the reason we had to play the extra game against Ukraine is much more important and much more newsworthy than a football match.

”But Ireland will have had a better preparation. We’ve had a great win in midweek and we feel good about ourselves so maybe it balances itself out.”

Clarke did, however, brush aside any suggestion he will come under pressure from club managers regarding who to pick. “My job is to win matches for Scotland,” he said.

‘We have to win’

Scotland’s confidence is high after Ukraine were comfortably swatted aside, 3-0. Playing for a draw against Ireland does not form part of Clarke’s thinking. Nor does altering approach depending on Ukraine’s result against Armenia in a game which takes place before Scotland’s.

”We have to win the game,” he said. “Emotionally it is better for everybody if we go to Ukraine with a win. Obviously, two draws will do us. But you have to set up to win. We want to win. When we play at home we want teams to know they are coming for a tough game. I think on the back of what we did on Wednesday night, we have to back that up with another good performance. I think Ukraine will beat Armenia.”

June’s events in Dublin are a warning for Scotland. There, Ireland defeated Clarke’s men by three goals in arguably the worst performance of the manager’s tenure. Clarke cut a dejected figure at the Aviva Stadium.

”I have told the players that all we have done is secure the fact we won’t be relegated from the B league,” he said. “We can still finish first, second or third in the group. The next game is the most important one. We want to finish first. We still have a lot of work in front of us, then we can think about playoffs, seedings, whatever.” — Guardian