THERE has been much that Steve Clarke has needed to mull over this week as Scotland have prepared for their hugely important Euro 2024 qualifier against Cyprus in Larnaca on tomorrow night.

Clarke has had to assess both the form and fitness of his players as they have trained at Lesser Hampden ahead of the Group A encounter with Temuri Ketsbaia’s team in the AEK Arena.

He will now have to decide what starting line-up to select, formation to put his faith in and tactics to deploy in a difficult away match against rivals who are smarting after three straight defeats and desperate to record their first win.

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However, Clarke, whose men are in top spot in their section at the halfway stage and a result or two away from cementing a place in the finals in Germany next summer, will not have spent much time worrying about where Scotland’s goals are going to come from in recent days.

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He has, in Che Adams, Ryan Christie, Lyndon Dykes, John McGinn, Callum McGregor and Scott McTominay, footballers who have proved they can score in big games at international level.

Manchester United midfielder McTominay is, with five goals in four outings, the joint second top goalscorer in Euro 2024 qualifying alongside Harry Kane of England, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Zeki Amdouni of Switzerland.

Only Romelu Lukaku of Belgium and Rasmus Hojland of Denmark have been on target more in this campaign than the man who endeared himself to Tartan Army footsoldiers forever with his double in the 2-0 triumph over Spain at Hampden back in March.

Clarke has named five forwards in his 25-man squad for the double header against Cyprus and England – who will provide the opposition in the 150th Anniversary Heritage Match in Glasgow on Tuesday - and every one of them has been exhibiting encouraging form for their clubs this term.

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Adams has been on target three times in four Championship appearances for Southampton, Lawrence Shankland has found the net for Hearts on five occasions in all competitions while Kevin Nisbet has bagged two in his last two run-outs for Millwall.

Jacob Brown, who moved from Stoke City to Premier League new boys Luton Town last month and has since come on in their meetings with Brighton, Chelsea and West Ham, has not been selected for these games such is the abundance of options available to the manager up front just now.

All of which would seem to suggest that Scotland is in rude good health when it comes to strikers.

Appearances, though, can be deceptive. The story closer to home makes for concerning reading. The statistics underline that when it comes to producing centre forwards this country has a serious problem which needs to be both acknowledged and addressed.

Since the 2023/24 cinch Premiership kicked off last month, there have been 24 games played and no fewer than 58 goals scored. However, just four of them have been netted by attackers who originally hail from these shores and who came through the youth system here.

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Jordan White (for Ross County against Celtic at Parkhead),  Shankland (for Hearts against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park), Bruce Anderson (for Livingston against Hibernian at Easter Road) and Simon Murray (for Ross County against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park) are the only Scottish strikers to find the target in the past five weeks.

The paucity of home-grown talent in the final third is both alarming and perplexing in a country which has lauded Laurie Reilly, Denis Law, Ian St John, Alan Gilzean, Kenny Dalglish, Joe Harper, Joe Jordan, Andy Gray, Steve Archibald, Mo Johnston, Charlie Nicholas, Ally McCoist, Gordon Durie, Kevin Gallacher, Billy Dodds, Kenny Miller, James McFadden, Kris Boyd, Steven Fletcher, Steven Naismith and Leigh Griffiths over the years.

Adams and Dykes are firm favourites of the Scotland support. But the former was born and brought up  in Leicester and only qualifies to play for the national team due to a grandmother who hails from Edinburgh. The latter, meanwhile, comes from Australia and considered playing for the Socceroos before pledging his allegiances to the land of his parents’ birth.

Andy Robertson has won the Premier League and Champions League with Liverpool and plays in that division with his compatriots Elliot Anderson of Newcastle United, Christie of Bournemouth, Billy Gilmour of Brighton, Aaron Hickey of Brentford, McGinn of Aston Villa, Scott McKenna of Nottingham Forest, McTominay and Nathan Paterson of Everton.

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But Brown of Luton and Oliver McBurnie of Sheffield United are the only Scots who lead the line in that division.

During his four tenure as Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan repeatedly bemoaned the absence of a Gareth Bale, a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Harry Kane, a Cristiano Ronaldo, a Robert Lewandowski. He felt that a global superstar was needed to elevate his team to another level. We have some genuinely world-class footballers now. But we are still waiting for that icon to emerge. 

Strachan’s successor Alex McLeish shared that frustration during his second spell in charge of his country. “It’s been a problem for a while," he said. "We’ve really struggled with strikers. It would have been great to have another Coisty or Mo Jo, one of these great legends of the past who score goals regularly. It’s a problem I sadly don’t know the formula for.”

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So what is the reason? Is it due to the influx of foreign players in recent years? Is it because the 4-4-2 formation has fallen out of fashion in the modern era? Is it down to coaching at grassroots level? Is there simply no longer any need for an old-fashioned No 9 in the game today?

We have spoken to former players, managers, administrators and specialist forward coaches to get their thoughts on why we are failing to rear the number of predators that we did in the past and hear their views about what can be can buck a disturbing trend and will be running interviews with them throughout the international break. 

Scotland should hopefully have enough firepower to overcome Cyprus on Friday and then reach the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next summer – but more strikers are urgently required to safeguard the long-term future of both the national team and the national game.  

In Striking Out tomorrow: How Malky Mackay and the SFA set about tackling Scotland’s striker shortage