WITH Che Adams only getting on for the final 25 minutes or so against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Friday night and Lyndon Dykes not featuring at all, Steve Clarke may well start with a new striker this evening.

Not that the Scotland manager was giving an awful lot away when he was quizzed by reporters yesterday about his intentions for the meeting with Northern Ireland at Hampden. “Do you want the team?” he said with a raise of his eyebrows. “I’ll sleep on it.”

If Clarke does wake up today and decide to change who plays up front in the friendly international it will be no reflection, none whatsoever, on how Lawrence Shankland performed in attack in the Johan Cruyff Arena last week.

Nor will it mean the free-scoring Hearts captain is being punished for the scoring opportunity he spurned – he was clean through on goal with only goalkeeper Mark Flekken to beat and hit the crossbar - in the second half of the encounter with the Dutch last week.

Many fans and pundits have suggested that Shankland, who was surprisingly given the nod ahead of Tartan Army favourites and proven performers Adams and Dykes, has blown his chances of leading the line for his country in the Euro 2024 finals in Germany in June because of his glaring miss in the 4-0 defeat.

That, though, is not how Clarke views things. He felt the eight-times capped 28-year-old, who has netted on 28 occasions in the 2023/24 campaign, actually proved he could compete against top class international opposition during his time on the park. If anything, he believes the forward has furthered his cause.

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“I don’t buy that at all,” he said. “I think that goalscorers are goalscorers. He worked ever so hard to get that chance. Nobody is more disappointed than Lawrence that he didn’t take it. But he knows that there will be another chance and he’ll probably score it. 

“No, Lawrence was good. The reason I played Lawrence against Holland was I have to see how he plays against that level of opposition. And he was good. He’s done himself no harm whatsoever. 

“Forget the scoreline. Forget the chance that he missed. Lawrence was good in the game. It was a good night for Lawrence. Maybe not a good night for everybody else. It was just one of those nights, wasn’t it? When we had to score goals in qualifying we scored goals. I have got no concerns.”

The Herald: Clarke, who ordered his Scotland players to press the Netherlands high up the park from kick-off on Friday evening, appreciates that Shankland gives him a different option in the final third. He is not about to disregard such a lethal predator because of a single shot which struck the woodwork.  

“The other two boys?” he said. “We know what they can do. It would be nice if one of them at their club started to knock in the goals and became the main man. I’d much rather three of them were doing it going into the Euros. Then it makes it a difficult choice. 

“There will always be a little bit of horses for courses in terms of the nature of the striker, the make-up of the opposition and how we are going to approach the game, with a high press or a lower block. There’s always going to be room to manoeuvre with the strikers. And that helps. 

“He’s just a different player. Dykesy is different to Che, Che is different to Lawrence and Lawrence is different to Dyksey. They all bring something a little bit different. Dykesy and Che have got their own qualities and Lawrence has got his qualities.” 

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Clarke, he reminded the assembled media, gave Shankland a call-up when he was playing in the second tier of Scottish football with Dundee United. He feels he has progressed hugely as a player since then and has even more to contribute.  

“Lawrence has improved,” he said. “There’s no doubt. I brought Lawrence in to the squad on another dark night (in a 4-0 defeat to Russia in Moscow in a Euro 2020 qualifier in 2019) and he was a Championship player at the time. 

“But obviously I saw qualities in him. I thought, ‘If he continues to develop the way he’s developing’. And he has done. He’s got himself now scoring goals for the third best team in Scotland this year in Hearts. 

“He’s scoring goals week in week out. It doesn’t matter who he’s playing against. He’ll score against Celtic and Rangers, he’ll score against Livi down at the bottom or St Johnstone. He scores goals.”

The Herald: Clarke could do with a few of his Scotland players having their shooting boots on tonight.

The national team, who have lost to England, Spain, France and the Netherlands and drawn with Georgia and Norway in the past six months, desperately need to end a six game winless run and start building up a head of steam before the Euro 2024 finals.

However, the manager stressed that he was far from despondent about the loss to Ronald Koemann’s star-studded side despite the final scoreline after watching his men dominate the opening hour.

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“I want us to be a team that can play different systems, can play different ways and be confident in whichever way we decide to go on to the pitch,” he said. “Normally against a Pot One team we would be a little bit deeper and wait for our moments to break. We decided that we would go and have a press and it worked pretty well for us.

“We took them on, we went toe to toe with them. If we are clinical in the right moments and get ourselves in front or get ourselves equalised the whole game changes, the whole mood on the night can change.

“Listen, there was a lot to take from the game positively. In the debrief we spent as much time, if not more time, talking about the positives than the ending. We saw one or two things towards the end that we can improve in. And hopefully in the future, when we get to that type of scenario, we know better how to manage a game like that.”