STEVE Clarke was asked the other day what he was looking forward to most once this Scotland double header was out the way. “Some sleep,” he said.

The Scotland manager, a man who likes “a week sitting under an umbrella under the sun”, can finally catch up on an afternoon nap or two now as he sits by the pool with his family. But considering he only had days to get his first squad together, you could say he has already negotiated these first couple of weeks in the job with his eyes closed.

Okay, so on the face of it, the results are nothing special. A late, scrambled win at home against Cyprus and a 3-0 defeat against Belgium are not outcomes which would have spared Alex McLeish another fearful kicking on the phone-ins.

There is still huge work to be done, particularly home and away against the Russians, if automatic qualification for Euro 2020 is ever to get back on the agenda. But make no mistake about how much the mood has changed already. Clarke’s biggest achievement is simply allowing the Tartan Army to dare to dream again.

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Tuesday was a nightmare assignment. It ended 3-0, an identical score line to the one Alex McLeish’s men managed in Astana.

So why were the 3,000 or so Scotland fans in attendance were still chanting towards their heroes long after the final whistle, the players going to the fans afterwards?

Some would say there is no such thing as a good 3-0 defeat. But when you concede a goal in the dying seconds of either half, the second goal was offside, and the fact James Forrest spurned what looked like a fairly simple tap in to make it 2-1 to subject the hosts to a sweaty last five minutes, this was a glorious failure.

Scotland didn’t deserve to take anything from the game on Tuesday night. When you consider the 71% possession and 11 shots on target to Scotland’s two, neither could the 3-0 scoreline couldn’t really be said to flatter Belgium. At times we were too timid in possession, at times we were too brave. But playing the best team in the world in the shadow of Brussels’ famous Atomium sculpture, it takes balls of steel to play that way.

All that mattered for the fans was a cohesion and tactical rigour about the national team which hadn’t been seen for a while. “It’s been exhilarating, tiring after a long hard season,” said Clarke. “But I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve enjoyed working with the players. You’re always challenging yourself working with a new group of players. I think they’ve responded well to what I’ve asked them to do.

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“The score reflects badly and makes it look like we came here and took a tonking which, in terms of possession and shots we probably did, but everybody did their job defensively,” added the former Kilmarnock manager. “We worked really hard against the best team in the world to try and get something out of the game.

“Listen, I’m a professional and to lose 3-0 hurts. I’m disappointed for the players they lost 3-0. They didn’t deserve that. They definitely put in a lot and deserved a closer score-line. I’m not saying they we deserved to get anything out of the game, don’t get me wrong. But for me after 10 days work, you could see a little bit of organisation, a little bit of desire, commitment, tactical awareness which I was really pleased with.

“I’ve got to mention the Tartan Army; the support they gave from start to finish in Belgium was incredible. I said to Alex Dyer at the end ‘you wouldn’t believe the team’s just lost 3-0’. They’re up there singing, cheering and supporting the lads.

“They could see the commitment of the players, they could see the organisation and they probably got as excited as I did when we had that big chance to make it 2-1 with six minutes to go,” he added. “And if it goes 2-1 then? Maybe we can make the best team in the world nervous. So, that’s something to take out of the game.”

And it isn’t just the fans who have been won over. The body language of the players tells its own story. No wonder Clarke hopes the feelgood factor will convince more to be part of it.

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Performance-wise, there have been plenty of individual epiphanies already. Kenny McLean’s aptitude for maintaining possession in the tightest of midfield areas for one. Not everything Scott McTominay tried came off but his potential is obvious too.

“For me, Kenny McLean in the two games has been absolutely outstanding,” said Clarke. “I think young Scott McTominay also showed he’s got a big big future. For his own team and for the country. There were lots of good performances defensively.

“Oli Burke up front had a thankless task. He ran himself into the ground, had a good chance in the first half when it was 0-0. So some really positive things to take out of the game. But, same as me, the players were gutted they’d lost the game.”

Throw in Greg Taylor, who started well and got better as the match went on. Clarke’s alchemy with him was just letting him know on the day of the game that the captain’s hamstring wasn’t going to be good to go and he was next man up.

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“I just put the team up and said ‘you’re playing’,” said the Scotland manager. “We did it in the morning of the game. We had to wait until we saw how things worked out. I had three injury doubts – Andy Robertson, Ryan Fraser and Eamonn Brophy overnight. I got two of them good enough to be on the bench while Andy, obviously, missed out.

“I just did what I always do; I picked the team, I showed the team with the set-play organisation slides and we go through that.

“That was how he knew he was playing. But he’s used to my methods. I just told him to go out and play like he did for me at Kilmarnock over the last 18 months.

“That’s what he did. He was tremendous. What about his tackle at the end? That’s what Greg’s been doing at Kilmarnock in my 18 months and I think previously to that also.”