Scotland humbled, Celtic return this weekend

I had hoped that when Steve Clarke stepped down from doing a fantastic job at Kilmarnock that Scotland would benefit from his coaching skills. With two defeats from his opening three games and a third against Belgium last night, qualifying from Group I is dead.

To be fair, the damage was pretty much done under Alex McLeish thanks to an away defeat to 48th ranked Kazakhstan earlier in the year. A glimpse of hope remained when Clarke was installed before the double header against Belgium and Cyprus in June.

Beating Cyprus in his opening match in charge was much needed, but losing away to Belgium was pretty much guaranteed. That meant a good result against the Russians at Hampden was required, but that did not materialise on Friday evening.

With the Belgian’s firing four past Scotland without reply, Clarke is now focussed on the play-offs in March. Next month Scotland will travel to Russia where a draw is the best hope though defeat is more likely.

The group fixtures will then conclude with San Marino (H), Cyrpus (A) and Kazakhstan (H). Clarke has stated that 12 points are up for grabs, but I think 9 is probably more realistic for Scotland.

Before the qualifiers commenced, the pecking order of this group would most likely have put Scotland in third place behind Belgium and Russia. That is now Clarke’s target in the remaining four games.

The SFA botched matters after Gordon Strachan left. Appointing McLeish was a shocking piece of recruitment.

I like Steve Clarke a lot and were it not for his miserable demeanour I’d love to have seen him at Celtic. Realistically, I don’t think he has what it takes to manage a club like Celtic because it is more than just coaching players, which is why I think the Scotland job is probably good for him.

I’m prepared to see how he fairs in the play offs in March. Between now and then he needs to forge a team that is stronger than the current one.

With the international break almost over we can look forward to having our players return to the domestic fold and for Celtic push on this season. On Saturday, the Bhoys are back in action away to Hamilton.

The game is live at midday and the Lanarkshire club will be looking to get some more points on the board. In all likelihood I can’t see that happening against Celtic.

The Hoops are three points clear at the top after putting two past the Ibrox club just over a week ago. That result and the manner of the performance laid down a marker.

Having taken so much flak from Celtic fans, the media and the pundits, the critics were silenced. It was a measured performance by Celtic on September 1st and was a reminder to all, who the best club in Scotland actually are.

Yes, it was a frantic game and yes, the opposition had more possession. The truth is though, Celtic saw that coming, allowed them space and time to play and dealt with it.

The Ibrox club were always going to come out of the traps for that match. In the end, they did very little with the ball in the final third.

The game was won by better quality players. The next match against them will be very interesting indeed.

However, in the weeks and months ahead we have a treble to defend and Europe to conquer. The season is really just beginning.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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