Clarke demands ‘winning mentality’ from Scotland

Steve Clarke is hoping Scotland can hold on to top spot in Nations League Group B1
Venue: Hampden Park, Glasgow Date: Wednesday, 24 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Listen live on BBC Radio Scotland Extra/DAB/810MW, live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app, highlights on BBC One Scotland from 22:50

Steve Clarke insists his Scotland side “never set up for the draw” as they approach Saturday’s Nations League meeting with Republic of Ireland.

After the Hampden date with the Irish, the Scots take on Ukraine in Poland in Tuesday’s final fixture and two draws would secure promotion.

“You always have to go with a winning mentality,” said Clarke.

“We want to feel good about ourselves going into every single game. You never set up for the draw, you always set up to win and if you’re not quite good enough to win then hopefully you get the draw.

“At the moment, all we’ve achieved is we can’t get relegated from the group.

“We can finish second, we can finish third. We’ve still got everything in front of us. You could get carried away looking at what we could achieve but let’s just concentrate on the next game and make that next step forward.”

Top spot in the group would also result in a pot two seeding for next month’s Euro 2024 qualifying draw and guarantee the safety net of a play-off path to the tournament.

Ukraine, two points behind Scotland, will have played Armenia in Yerevan before kick-off at Hampden.

The Irish have taken four points from four games and will have slim hopes of finishing first extinguished if Ukraine win earlier in the day.

The visitors will be buoyed by June’s 3-0 win over Scotland in Dublin, although manager Stephen Kenny was keen to stress this is “a new challenge”.

He added: “We’re not dwelling on that game, we have to move on from that. Scotland have been very good since Steve Clarke took charge, so anything we get we know that we’ll have to earn. We know we’re going to have to put in a big performance.”

Reflecting on the loss to Ireland, which came 10 days after a painful World Cup play-off semi-final loss to Ukraine, Clarke explained: “It was a difficult summer for us. This time we have to make sure that we reach our level. If we can reach our level then let’s see what the result is.

“We need to combat their strengths and make sure we play to our maximum and show our qualities. We showed an improved performance against Ukraine from what we did in the summer and the idea is to replicate that again.”

Team news

Clarke indicated “there won’t be wholesale changes” following Wednesday’s win. Defenders Josh Doig and Declan Gallagher were called up to the squad after full-back Nathan Patterson and midfielder David Turnbull withdrew.

John McGinn is expected to win his 50th cap and captain the side again in Andy Robertson’s absence.

Lyndon Dykes scored twice off the bench against Ukraine, having replaced Che Adams.

“You want to be challenged all the time on positions by players,” said Clarke.

“I don’t think Lyndon was very happy with me that he didn’t start. That’s what you want. Come off the bench and show what you can do and then give me an even bigger decision to make in the next game. I want that all across the pitch, every position.”

With Caoimhin Kelleher out, Gavin Bazunu is due to start in goals for the visitors, while experienced duo Shane Duffy and Matt Doherty should feature despite very limited game time at their clubs.

“This is a new Ireland, it’s a new identity,” said Kenny. “With the mixture of youth and experience, we’ve had to suffer a little bit in terms of some results in rebuilding, but the style of play is what the Irish public are connecting with in a major way.”

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