CAN you ever learn anything when you play against San Marino? Not to mention when the game is played amid monsoon conditions which rendered the whole thing a tad farcical at points?

It is one thing to look like world beaters against the also rans of the game, a team who have avoided defeat on just five occasions in quarter of a century of trying, quite another for Steve Clarke to feel confident of having a team and a squad in place capable of overcoming sides of the calibre of Bulgaria, Israel, Norway or Serbia to guide us to our first major finals in 22 years.

Still, like youth clubs bolstering fragile confidence by arranging a match against inferior opposition, at least Clarke’s Scotland showed a willingness to be flat track bullies here. The rain poured down and the goals rained down on the poor San Marinese, but was there anything meaningful which Clarke can take from this after the midweek mauling in Moscow?


Let’s face it, Scotland aren’t overly blessed with goal scorers at international level. The eleven which Clarke named yesterday went into the match with just eight goals between them, so it was a boon to add another six to the tally, not to mention finding a midfielder in John McGinn who seems to have discovered that happy knack of notching them at this level of football. While officials could have done with the old cricket ‘snickometer’ to decide whether he got the final touch on Ryan Christie’s low cross-shot it came to Scotland’s opener, the Aston Villa player puts himself in where it hurts and yesterday he claimed the national team’s first hat-trick since Robert Snodgrass against Malta in 2016, our first first-half hat-trick since 1952. Now with five goals in five games for his country, he was in the right place at the right time when Aldo Simoncini palmed out a Scott McTominay centre for No 2, then swivelled to fire in another striker’s goal from close range from Stuart Findlay’s headed knock down.


AS the rain teeming down incessantly in that second half and the ball failed to run true on the Mount Florida grass, referee Jerome Brisard of France must have been wondering whether the player’s safety was being overly compromised. Had we been playing the multi-millionaires of France and Belgium last night, there was not a chance that this one would have lasted the 90 minutes. The lack of wriggle room in the Uefa calendar with only the November dates to come, and the fact that San Marino were 3-0 down and already an irrelevance at the time, made up his mind to play on. Let’s hope no-one got injured on the back of it.


Back on a ground where he once played his club football, Dundee United’s Lawrence Shankland had the kind of opportunity on his home debut which strikers dream of. Those instincts were evident in the way he ran off the aptly named Cirstian Brolli to fire in a first half finish which Simoncini saved well, then span Luca Censoni before firing into the sidenetting. He had time to savour the goal he must have dreamed of, taking a touch on his right after a McTominay shot struck the bar before rolling into the unguarded net with his left.


Was Clarke doing Charlie Mulgrew a favour when he allowed him to rest up instead of playing in this one, or was it a signal that he wasn’t entirely delighted with the joy Artem Dzyuba got against him in Moscow? Whatever it was, there was nothing Michael Devlin and Stuart Findlay did yesterday which made him regret the decision. The Aberdeen man did the simple things well, got good clean jumps and contact on his headers, and posed menace at set pieces which had clearly seen a bit of work on the training ground. Findlay gave his old gaffer a dilemma with a composed display and a debut goal from a Ryan Christie corner. Liam Palmer did his cause no harm at right back either.


These are the kind of matches which are crucial in helping Clarke find out how best to deploy the Manchester United man. He showed his quality as he struck the bar, and at times he seemed to glide over the sodden Hampden turf, but having just returned from a suspension he could have done without picking a harsh, cheap booking for using an arm in an aerial challenge as the Euro 2020 playoffs loom. There was a welcome reminder too of what Stuart Armstrong has to offer, with a sweet curling free-kick for No 6.