MANY had Scotland written off after their performance against Denmark last week but after two victories against Moldova and Austria, there is an air of optimism about the national team once again.
Yes, the win at Hampden over Moldova was nothing special in terms of performance, but at the end of the day it was the three points that mattered.
Tuesday’s trip to Vienna then became mightily important and the performance of Steve Clarke’s team was, without doubt, up there with the best during his time in charge.
Scotland now have a great chance of qualifying for the World Cup and the Tartan Army are right behind their team with the national stadium already sold out for the visit of Israel in October.
Clarke fired back at his critics after his team ground out their fine victory over Austria and he was quite right to do so.
“Listen, some people in the country don’t really believe in this group of players, but I do,” he said. “I love my players, I trust them everywhere we go.
“We know we’re a good team, we know we’re a good group, we’re trying to grow together and we’re looking forward to getting a full house at Hampden for the next game. And the Tartan Army will get right behind us.
“We went to Denmark with Covid disruption, injury disruption, we went two goals down early in the game. We dug in, we found a way into the game which I thought showed great character from the players.
“We lost the game, we got criticised. I couldn’t say too much after the game, but Israel went there tonight and got beat by five.
“We are a good team. I repeat, we are a good team. We’ve got a great squad of players, and everybody involved with the group wants to do well for their country.
“It’s not about a siege mentality, we know we’re a good team. We just want to go out and play, we want to go out on the front foot, and we want to get the credit we deserve.”
Clarke delivered a major tournament for Scotland to enjoy for the first time in 23 years and suddenly after a couple of poor performances there were some calling for his head.
The criticism that he and his squad faced after their display against Denmark was unjust and simply unfair.
It must be remembered that Denmark made it all the way to the semi-finals of the European Championships even after enduring the terrible events of Christian Eriksen collapsing at the very beginning of the tournament.
Their squad is full of young and talented players, and they seem to be growing in confidence even without their star man Eriksen pulling the strings.
The Danes have won all matches in their section for a reason – they are by far the best team in the group.
To come away with six points from a hectic international schedule, including a match against the top seeds, Clarke and his players should be full of confidence heading into the next round of fixtures.
Scotland’s performance against Moldova was far from perfect, but plenty of chances were created. Only one goal was scored but it would be more of a worry if the chances dried up completely.
The spine of Clarke’s side was so important against Austria, and this high level of performance will have to continue to secure a spot at Qatar 2022.
Craig Gordon produced a fine save when called upon late on, Grant Hanley, Kieran Tierney and Jack Hendry were solid as a rock in defence, Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor were neat and tidy in possession in the middle of the park and Che Adams alongside Lyndon Dykes provided an impressive spearhead to the Scots attack.
Centre defender Hanley will miss out on next month’s match against Israel after picking up a booking in Vienna and he will be a huge miss at the back.
However, with Scott McTominay waiting in the wings after missing out on this international break, Clarke has a reliable defensive replacement that he can fully trust.
A win over Israel, the Faroe Islands and Moldova would secure a play-off spot for the World Cup and the Scots could have that secured before they welcome Denmark to Hampden for the final match of the qualification group.
The Israel clash is the big one and going by our countless meetings against them in recent times there is very little to separate the two teams.
Scotland ultimately pipped them on penalties to set up their play-off final match against Serbia for a shootout at Euro 2020 and they must take huge confidence from this.
With a full Hampden behind them there is no reason why Clarke and his players cannot deliver another Austria-esque performance to set up a chance of World Cup football.
These are promising times for the national team and with young stars like Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson breaking through, the future is certainly bright.
I never like to get carried away, but we are on the cusp of back-to-back major tournaments and the team needs our support.
Consistency will come under Clarke and remember he is only 27 games into a relatively short stint.
The SFA have been quick to axe managers in recent years but with Clarke’s success rate thus far, it is clear that he can take this country forward as a footballing nation.