STEVE CLARKE comes across as a man wed to pragmatism but perhaps the time has come to throw a little bit of caution to the wind. The Scotland manager will name his squad this week for the forthcoming double-header against Russia and San Marino, while simultaneously reiterating his belief that they can still finish in third place in the group, just behind the two automatic qualification spots.

Given Scotland lie in fifth place – below Cyprus and Kazakhstan – that would still only represent the most modest of achievements should it come to pass, hardly something to lift the morale of the bedraggled Tartan Army.

Clarke has already admitted this qualifying campaign has all but run its course. But with thousands of tickets still to sell for the glamour clashes at home to San Marino and Kazakhstan, he must do something to drum up interest or risk the ire of the Hampden sales and marketing teams desperately trying to flog this deadest of horses.

What might help put bums on seats for two otherwise inconsequential encounters would be to introduce a sprinkling of new faces and try to drum up some enthusiasm about the next generation of players on the cusp of forging their way into contention.

These last four group matches are, in reality, warm-up encounters for what really counts, the Nations League play-off ties in the spring. It remains remarkable that, despite an almost relentless stream of poor results over the last few years, the national team can still yet quality for Euro 2020 should they prove capable of beating probably Bulgaria and then one of Norway or Serbia.

Clarke has little to learn about the same players who have been wheeled out time and time again so perhaps with the play-offs in mind – and hopefully the finals themselves beyond that – it is time to take a different approach.

He should find a place for Billy Gilmour. The midfielder may still only be 18 but if Chelsea entrust him enough to represent their first team – and in no way disgrace himself in the 7-1 cup win over Grimsby Town – then there is no reason why Clarke shouldn’t give him a call-up, too.

There is a growing feeling that Gilmour may prove to be the finest talent produced in a generation and, without putting undue pressure on him, it would do no harm were he to be called up for the mission to Moscow and the home game against San Marino.

Being a part of the travelling party for the first game would allow him to integrate into the group and get to know his prospective team-mates. Should he settle quickly then it makes perfect sense to play him at Hampden in the second match, either from the start or off the bench. If Gilmour is going to be a significant player for Scotland in the future then why not give him an early opportunity to show what he can do when the pressure is all but off?

That same invitation could be made to a number of his Scotland Under-21 team-mates. Doing so may weaken Scot Gemmill’s options for his own matches but what is the purpose of age group football if it is not to prepare players for making the step up to the full squad. If the likes of Fraser Hornby, Lewis Ferguson, Allan Campbell, and Mikey Johnston have shown sufficient potential at Under-21 level then there can be no harm in now affording them a platform to perform at a higher level. If Scotland are to be mixing it with the best next summer in the Euro 2020 finals then Clarke will need to have at his disposal a group of players all comfortable with, and ready to play on, that stage.

Kieran Tierney is another who should be welcomed back in to the fold. You could not fail to detect the buzz from Arsenal fans in midweek as the full-back belatedly made his full-team debut following his £25m move from Celtic in the summer.

That acclaim will only grow should Tierney make his first league appearance against Manchester United tomorrow night. Arsenal may prefer if their player did not disappear on international duty so soon after recovering from injury but it would boost the morale of both the squad and the Scotland fan base to see him report for action.

Andy Robertson may have endured a difficult time during the last international break but in general his elevation to the European elite with Liverpool has served as a source of pride for the entire country. To have a second player on the cusp of also becoming a regular with one of England’s leading sides – a third if you include Scott McTominay with Manchester United – can only add to the feel-good factor during a difficult time for the national team.

By making it clear that he is taking an opportunity to prepare for the future, Clarke can leave 30-somethings like Charlie Mulgrew, Steven Naismith, and David Marshall

behind for this double-header

without any loss of face, with an acknowledgement that all will remain in contention for the play-off matches in the spring.

Scotland fans have had little to cheer about during a demoralising few years. Giving them an early glimpse of the future might be the best way to finally give them some hope.