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If the sight of Kieran Tierney on the training pitch the morning after Scotland’s wounding loss to the Czech Republic raised tartan spirits, Steve Clarke promptly delivered the kind of caveats that do not bode well for an upcoming meeting with England. Tierney’s injury, which Clarke has confirmed as a calf problem, had a visibly detrimental impact on the Scottish performance during a 2-0 win for the Czechs at Hampden Park.
As the Arsenal defender was filmed alongside his international teammates on Tuesday morning, a nation almost raised a smile. Not so fast, urged Clarke. “You can’t play with a calf injury,” Clarke said. “He is back light training. That is a big difference to normal training. I wouldn’t think Kieran will train on Wednesday. I can’t tell if he is going to be OK, that is the honest answer.”
If the Tierney situation is therefore out of Clarke’s control, Scotland’s manager has found himself subjected to some pretty fierce analysis about his team selection for the Czech game. Much of this is with hindsight, of course, but the non-deployment of Che Adams from the outset always looked a strange move. A noisy rump of the Scotland support are irked that youthful exuberance was not added to the team in the shape of Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson. Adams was introduced at half-time as Gilmour and Patterson sat out the 90 minutes.
Erin Cuthbert's second-half goal proved enough to give Scotland a 1-0 win over Wales in their friendly in Llanelli.
Scotland had their captain Rachel Corsie back in action along with forward Kim Little, while Wales manager Gemma Grainger handed a first senior start to 17-year-old Manchester United midfielder Carrie Jones.
Angharad James tested Scotland goalkeeper Lee Alexander early on but it was the visitors who went closest to breaking the deadlock just before half-time when Cuthbert [picture] saw her shot hit the crossbar.
The Chelsea forward broke the deadlock in the 59th minute when she latched on to a mistake by Wales keeper Laura O'Sullivan. Natasha Harding and captain Sophie Ingle missed chances for Wales as Stuart McLaren ended his stint as Scotland caretaker manager with a victory.
“Every decision is big,” Clarke insisted. “Every decision you make is a big decision. You make decisions with the best intentions and that’s what we did. I don’t think Che would have made too much difference in the first half because we didn’t get quality ball into the strikers. When we lost the goal just before half-time I had a fair idea the game would open up. That allowed Che to show his talents.”
Clarke’s defence mode continued in respect of Stephen O’Donnell and David Marshall. O’Donnell, the Motherwell right-back, looked to struggle with the Hampden Park occasion. Marshall was clearly too far out of his goal with Scotland in possession just before Patrik Schick floated home the second Czech goal from almost 50 yards.
“Analyse the game and tell me what Stephen did wrong?” Clarke said. “How many chances came off that side? Jakub Jankto, one of their most dangerous players, had a quiet game. Their left-back, a really good attacking left-back, Jan Boril, didn’t create a chance in the game.
“So analyse the game before we start killing players, just because [of] who they are and where they play. Analyse his games when he plays for us. Look at his performances objectively. Just look at the games. Stephen’s first job is to be a defender. So analyse the games. That’s all I’ll say on that one.
“David has probably faced that shot 50 times in his career and that’s the only time it’s gone in. It happens. I don’t understand the criticism. It was a shot from Jack Hendry and three seconds later it’s in the back of the net. The blocked shot could go anywhere, it fell perfectly for him [Schick] to run on to and hit. It’s one of those things. He’s got loads of experience, Marsh, he’ll be fine. I’ve got no worries there.”
It is a lack of conviction which may instead give Clarke sleepless nights. Scotland’s failure to convert chances was actually apparent before their first finals appearance in 23 years, with that shortcoming just exposed to a greater degree against the Czechs. The Scots must be more ruthless if any reward is to be gleaned from Wembley on Friday evening.
“My job is to look at the performance,” Clarke explained. “If you don’t just look at the result, if you are honest and you look at the game, as we do, there is a lot to take out of the game. We weren’t clinical enough for sure, but we created enough chances. They were clinical with what they created.
“They had 10 shots on goal and got seven on target. They looked a little bit more dangerous in and around the box. We were hoping to score, they are expecting to score. That was probably the difference. It’s fine margins. I think the game on Monday was a game of fine margins.”