THERE was precious little if anything at all in the defeat to Northern Ireland at Hampden on Tuesday evening to give Scotland fans hope they can enjoy a successful Euro 2024 this summer.

The national team might have dominated the meeting with their Celtic cousins – they enjoyed 82 per cent possession during the course of the 90 minutes – but they failed to create never mind convert any decent scoring opportunities up front and crashed to a concerning 1-0 loss.

The reverse extended their winless slump to seven matches – their worst run of results since way back in 2005.

But there was one thing which eternally optimistic Tartan Army footsoldiers perhaps clung to as they traipsed out into the chill Mount Florida night – manager Steve Clarke still has two games to sort it out before Germany in June.

Should they, though, really expect improved showings and morale-boosting triumphs in the meetings with Gibraltar in Portugal and Finland in Glasgow? The defeat in midweek continued a dire streak of form in friendly internationals. Scotland have won just one of their last 13. And that was against minnows Luxembourg.  

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Clarke has much to ponder before he selects his final 23 man squad for the Euro 2024 finals in May. Why were his charges unable to capitalise on the chances they carved out in the final third against the Netherlands? Why were they so impotent in attack in the meeting with Northern Ireland? Why have they conceded 19 times in their last six outings?

However, he will certainly not overlook the friendly factor. He is by no means disregarding the latest double header or ignoring the areas which need to be improved before his team take on hosts Germany in the Allianz Arena in Munich in their opening Group A match on June 14. Still, he is quietly confident that a return to competitive action will see standards improve.  

The Herald: Scotland manager Steve Clarke during the 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland at Hampden on Tuesday night“Do I wish there were more games before the Euros?” he said yesterday as he looked back on another disappointing result. “They are two friendlies. I wish there were nae more games! Look at our friendly record. It is s***e!  Not just my friendly record, everybody’s friendly record. It is not very good.

“It has not been an ideal March camp, we’d obviously have liked better results. But it is what it is. You take it and move on. I am not overly concerned, I am not overly worried about anything.

“The players are disappointed. They don’t like losing. They also understand that what is ahead of them is something they should be excited about and ready for and I am sure they will be. I know the nature of the group. They are determined to do what no Scottish team has done before (reach the knockout rounds of a major tournament) in the summer.

“All I said to them was go away and play well for your club. Win trophies if you are going for trophies and don’t get relegated if you are fighting a relegation battle. Just do what you have to do and make sure you are fit when I pick the squad in May and that’s it really.”

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Clarke - who fielded a strong side, arguably the strongest side available to him, against Michael O’Neill’s young and inexperienced team – was still pleased with aspects of Scotland’s play against Northern Ireland on Tuesday night.

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“In some of the friendlies we have played all right, in some of the friendlies we haven’t played all right or been just a little bit off it, he said. “But I don’t think that was the case last night. I thought we were at it.

“I thought we tried and we pushed and pushed. You can’t say the lads were not trying right until the end. They kept going. They just could not find that little spark in the final third that was going to create us a clean chance. We had a couple of half-chances right near the end when we went two up top. But nothing clean.

“I thought we started the game quite well and moved the ball and moved them about. But they were good at what they did. Sometimes you have to give the opposition a bit of credit.

“They reminded me of us a few years ago when we played with that deep block against the teams seeded above us and made it difficult for them and looked to counter. They were good and we were not quite good enough to get back into the game.

“I don’t think this will linger. I really don’t. We tried what we tried to do against Northern Ireland and it didn’t work for us. But I don’t think it was a bad performance. People might say it is a bad performance because we lost. It was a bad result it was not a bad performance.” 

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Clarke acknowledged that he will have consider how Scotland approach games against rivals who sit back, soak up pressure and seek to score on the counter attack, as Northern Ireland very much did, in the coming weeks.

He will be wise to do so. That is how Hungary, who the national team take on in their all-important third Group A game in the MHPArena in Stuttgart on June 23, have played in recent seasons.

“There was more space against the Dutch for sure,” he said. “That contributed to a good 70 minutes for us. There was not a lot of space against Northern Ireland. That is because the opposition were good at closing it. Maybe we have to have a little look when we go away about how we play that type of opposition and think about how find a way of to open the game up.”

Clarke’s main focus going forward, though, will be on recording victories over Gibraltar away and Finland at home and ensuring Scotland jet out to Germany for Euro 2024 with some much-needed momentum behind them.

“I wanted the win against Northern Ireland,” he said. “Well, we need to try to win the next one then.”