SHOULD Scotland fail in their bid to reach the last 16 of Euro 2020 tomorrow evening the elation their supporters are feeling following the 0-0 draw with England at Wembley on Friday night will quickly be replaced by deflation.

But it is unlikely that fans’ feelings towards their manager Steve Clarke will change regardless of what transpires in the final Group D match against Croatia at Hampden.

The rousing display against Gareth Southgate’s side, the joint tournament favourites, will not be forgotten quickly by members of the Tartan Army. Their heroes were immense in every area of the park, in defence, in midfield and in attack, and could very easily, had they got the break of the ball at the right moment, have recorded a famous and improbable victory.

It was hard to remember as accomplished a performance by a side in dark blue against such quality opposition.

Yes, Scotland beat France 1-0 home and away during Euro 2008 qualifying. But those results were achieved by putting every man behind the ball, withstanding relentless pressure and snatching a goal on the counter.

Against England last week they played, to borrow the famous Jock Stein quote, pure, beautiful, inventive football. They passed it calmly out from the back, bossed the midfield area against much-vaunted rivals and created chance after chance in the final third away from home.

It is to be hoped Andy Robertson and Co can scale the same heights against the Russia 2018 finalists, convert their opportunities and progress to the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time in their history

However, even if they come up short against Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic, who are 30 places above them in the current FIFA World Rankings and determined to go through themselves, a sense of optimism about the future will prevail.

This Scotland side has huge potential. Billy Gilmour, the Man of the Match at Wembley on his first international start, only turned 20 this month. Scott McTominay, Kieran Tierney, Che Adams and Kevin Nisbet are all just 24. Elsewhere, Ryan Christie, Liam Cooper, Lyndon Dykes, Ryan Fraser, Grant Hanley, Jack Hendry, John McGinn and Robertson have many more years of top level football ahead of them.

Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull have not featured yet in these finals. But the right back and playmaker have shown with their performances domestically and in Europe for Rangers and Celtic respectively this season that they are both more than capable of forcing their way into the national team during the Qatar 2022 campaign. 

It is, though, crucial that Clarke remains at the helm if this youthful and talented team is to build on what has been achieved so far. He has repeatedly got the very best out of his most celebrated charges and ensured that less high-profile individuals have performed far, far better than their detractors thought possible.

There were question marks about Hanley’s ability to cope against the likes of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford before Friday night despite the excellent season he has enjoyed with Norwich City. Neither got a sniff of goal.

Stephen O’Donnell, too, silenced his critics. The Motherwell right back dealt with the threat posed by first Phil Foden and then Jack Grealish and was desperately unlucky not to net the winner after testing Jordan Pickford with a powerful first-time volley in the first-half.

But anyone who saw his Fir Park club mate Declan Gallagher in action in the play-off semi-final against Israel and final against Serbia last year will not have been surprised by how well he acquitted himself. The centre half, drafted in due to injuries, was arguably Scotland’s best performer in both games.

The win over Serbia and draw against England are sure to have reminded club owners down south and further afield just what an exceptional coach Clarke, the former Newcastle United, Chelsea and Liverpool assistant and West Brom, Reading and Kilmarnock manager, is. 

The Ayrshireman has found not working with players on a daily basis, and the limited amount of time he has on the training ground before internationals, to be difficult since being appointed two years ago. He is under contract until the World Cup finals, but could be tempted to move on if an attractive offer was forthcoming.

It will be no surprise if the 57-year-old, who was heavily linked with the vacancy at Parkhead after Neil Lennon resigned as Celtic manager in February, was targeted by Premier League outfits in the coming weeks and months given the excellent job he has done.

Ian Maxwell, the Scottish FA chief executive who landed Clarke back in 2019, revealed last month that he is keen to tie up his compatriot on a new contract and would be sitting down to hold talks with him at the earliest available opportunity.

The economic climate is challenging after 15 months which have been blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The governing body faces the same financial difficulties that other major businesses and organisations are wrestling with. But no expense can be spared when it comes to securing the services of the Scotland manager long-term. It will be money well spent.