THE weeks leading up to a European Championship or World Cup finals can very often be as much of an emotional rollercoaster for managers and supporters as the actual tournament itself.

Worrying about whether key players are going to recover from injuries and be fit to travel can lead to sleepless nights and cause nails to be bitten to the quick. On occasion, a will-he-make-it-won’t-he-make-it saga can become nothing short of a national obsession.

When David Beckham broke the second metatarsal in his left foot in a Champions League quarter-final match in the April of 2002 – less than two months before England were due to depart for Korea Japan 2002 – it dominated the news agenda down south.

The Sun splashed a giant picture of the Manchester United midfielder’s bare foot on their front page one day and urged their readers to lay their hands on it at noon and “Pray for Becks”.

Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, allegedly interrupted a cabinet meeting to tell his government colleagues that “nothing is more important” than the fitness of the talisman  whose late free-kick against Greece the previous year had secured qualification.

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There will not be the same sort of absurd hysteria about Aaron Hickey as Euro 2024 in Germany edges ever closer. But the physical condition of the Brentford right back is concerning for Scotland manager Steve Clarke and Tartan Army footsoldiers all the same.

Particularly with Everton manager Sean Dyche confirming yesterday that Patterson will require surgery on the hamstring injury he suffered in the 6-0 drubbing by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday night and will be out for the rest of the season.

The Herald: What chances will Andy Robertson and his team mates have of progressing out of Group A and making it through to the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time ever if they have Anthony Ralston at wing back due to the unavailability of Hickey and Patterson?

Ralston is a fine footballer who has excelled when he has donned a dark blue jersey in the past. He made his international debut in a 2-0 win over Denmark at Hampden in 2021. He followed that up by scoring on his first start against Armenia in a Nations League game in Glasgow the following year.

However, the eight times-capped 25-year-old is not featuring regularly at club level at the moment. He last kicked off a match for Celtic two months ago. Scotland will just not be the same side without an on-form Hickey or Patterson rampaging down the flank.    

Brentford manager Thomas Franks last week revealed there is a danger the former, who has been sidelined with a hamstring issue since October, will not play for him again this season.

There is every chance that Clarke will select the former Hearts and Bologna man, who is back doing light training, in his squad if he is given the go-ahead to do so by his employers even if the defender has not made his comeback. But how much will he be able to expect or ask of the 21-year-old at the finals?

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So who can Clarke turn to? Does he bring back Stephen O’Donnell? The Motherwell man was nothing short of immense in the 0-0 draw against England at Wembley at Euro 2020 and has made 40 appearances in the 2023/24 campaign. The 31-year-old has, too, 26 caps to his name. Does he play Robertson or Kieran Tierney out of position once again? Or does he look elsewhere entirely? 

Perhaps Max Johnston, the Sturm Graz and Scotland Under-21 right back, is the solution to the problem. The 20-year-old is not a fixture in his club side either. Still, he has been involved extensively in the Austrian Bundesliga and Europa Conference League this term and has matured enormously as a result.

The Herald: He was, too, promoted to the senior Scotland squad for the friendly with France back in October after Hickey and Robertson were forced to withdraw so he will be familiar with the set-up and system. Drafting him in as back-up to Ralston, then, would not the worst move.

Clarke admitted that one lesson he learned three years ago was the need to freshen up his starting line-up. His charges looked spent in their final group game against Croatia and slumped to a 3-1 loss which sent them tumbling out. He will not make the same mistake in Germany.

Lewis Ferguson being ruled out is a huge blow even though the Bologna captain does not get in ahead of Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay and John McGinn. The manager needs options in every position to enjoy a successful finals and go one stage further than any of his predecessors did. Uncapped Johnston can provide him with that at right wing back.

Alternatively, he could always just “Pray for Hicks”.