STEVE Clarke insisted last night he was prepared to fight to ensure he has the best chance of succeeding in the Euro 2020 playoffs in March – but admitted his hands could be tied in an attempt to secure an extra day’s preparation time if Rangers and Celtic are both involved in Europa League last 16 ties the week before the matches.

Facing a four-month lay-off between tonight’s final Group I match against Kazakhstan at Hampden Park and the play-offs, the Scotland manager will be forced to be creative. With SFA president Rod Petrie in his corner, he will formally ask SPFL bosses for their assistance in ensuring no domestic matches take place on Sunday March 22, to allow players to report that day ahead of the semi-final against either Bulgaria, Israel or Romania the following Thursday.

While broadcasters have yet to name their selections for that weekend, Rangers are away to St Mirren and Celtic are at home to St Johnstone, matches which would be moved to the Sunday should both reach the last 16 of the Europa League. An SPFL spokesman yesterday pointed to the “very congested schedule” and said any request “would be difficult to deliver”.


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Clarke, who spoke out about sectarianism and had regular spats with officialdom during his time at Rugby Park, said last night that his time at Kilmarnock proved he wasn’t afraid to get tough but said he hoped both halves of the Old Firm would reach that stage of the competition. He must pick his battles, including when it comes to calls for invoking Fifa’s five-day rule for clubs who refuse to make players available.

“As you probably noticed from my short time at Kilmarnock, I don’t mind a fight if I have to have a fight, as long as it’s a fight for the right reason,” said Clarke. “If I do have to have a fight, I’ll face it head on. I don’t shirk away from it. I don’t think I’m a soft character. If I need to be strong, I’ll be strong. But, for the moment, I don’t see any value in it [invoking the five day rule]. It becomes a case of not wanting to cut off your nose to spite your face.

“I can’t remember if I actually said I wanted a cancellation of fixtures - I don’t think I did,” he added. “All we are asking for is for a little bit of common sense to come in on that weekend.

“The flip side of that is that I don’t want Rangers or Celtic to get knocked out of the Europa League before then. If they are playing on the Thursday night the previous week, then there’s nothing we can do about that.”