Depleted Scotland need a rousing Euro 2024 sendoff after lean run

Estimated read time 4 min read

It would be hugely disrespectful to Tommy Conway and Lewis Morgan to suggest Steve Clarke has needed to scrape the international barrel to fill out Scotland’s squad for the European Championship. However, the late addition of a player who has never turned out for the senior team and another who won his two caps in 2018 perfectly illustrates a fraught tournament buildup.

Finland’s visit to Hampden Park on Friday evening has been widely billed as a sendoff occasion in front of a near capacity crowd. Clarke and his team want to have the roars of a nation in their ears as they board a flight to Bavaria two days later. Barring outright disaster, this will come to pass.

Suddenly, though, it seems as if Scotland require a momentum shift in their favour. Conway and Morgan took Clarke’s call after Ben Doak joined Lyndon Dykes in limping out of the finals. Lewis Ferguson, Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson and Jacob Brown were already non-runners.

Niggles and knocks exist elsewhere; Scott McTominay will come off the bench against Finland having been unable to train fully. The core of Scotland’s team remains intact – just – but Clarke’s wider options have been seriously diminished.

“It has been tough,” the Scotland manager said. “It has been a difficult spell. It was not something we could envisage or foresee but we have coped with it really well. We have another hurdle to cross, another game to play, and when we get to Saturday’s day off I am going to try to relax for 24 hours before we head to Germany.

Red Bulls midfielder Lewis Morgan and Orlando City midfielder Cesar Araujo fight for the ballView image in fullscreen

“It is disappointing to have lost the players we have but in Tommy and Lewis we have two good additions to the squad. If I don’t include them, we are going [to Germany] with two forward players. So it was pretty clear we needed two more attacking players.”

No wonder Clarke smiled when asked whether he had a team in mind for next Friday’s tournament opener against the hosts in Munich. “No, because so many things have happened in the last week,” he said.

There have been endearing moments despite the personnel chaos. About 5,000 youngsters watched Scotland during an opening training session on Thursday. “The noise and enthusiasm was fantastic,” said Clarke. “What’s to be negative about? We are going to another tournament, the squad is in a good place. Why not just relax and enjoy it? That’s what we are going to try to do.

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“I don’t understand why anybody would be negative about a second European Championship in a row and a squad that has done really well for their country.”

Graeme Jones, the Scottish Football Association’s performance director, made initial contact with Morgan to explain the scenario with the player’s club, New York Red Bulls, in the potentially awkward point of mid-season. “I’ll stop you there,” said Morgan. “I’m coming.”

Clarke said Dykes had been in regular contact and desperate to join the squad if he even had a chance of being fit for their final group game, but medical advice to the manager led to his exclusion.

“We would love to finish with a win because that sends everybody away really happy,” Clarke said. “But [the priority is] good performance, no injuries, a good run-out and ready to go for the game that matters, which is next Friday in Germany.”

Clarke knows his team have to be more clinical. He told them as much in Portugal on Monday, where Gibraltar held them 0-0 at half-time. Two second-half goals ended a run of seven games without a win. England, Spain, France and the Netherlands contributed to that run; so did Georgia and Northern Ireland. It hardly helped against Gibraltar that Lawrence Shankland, so prolific on the Scottish domestic scene, was handed only one half-chance. He snatched badly at that.

Fears persist that Shankland may fall short at international level. Such scepticism would also explain why clubs from England’s Championship are not banging at the door of Hearts for a player who would be easily affordable.

“People don’t look in depth at what the Gibraltar game was for,” said Clarke, who sounded irked by criticism of Scotland’s display. “I do. I was happy with what I saw. The players were happy with what they got out of the game.”

The blunting of wider optimism may be no bad thing. Scottish teams have flopped under huge expectation before. Clarke is quite right to accentuate positives. He is merely a manager due some good fortune.


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