Che Adams is among those tasked with getting the goals – SHUTTERSTOCK
Aside from Billy Gilmour, who will be alone in his hotel room while his colleagues attempt to overcome Croatia tonight to reach the knockout stage of the Euros for the first time, the great absence for Scotland is that of goals.
In 15 games this season, they have scored 14, four of which were against the Faroe Islands, for the loss of 12. Most significantly, the Scots have not found the mark in this tournament and came closest with a Jack Hendry shot off the crossbar against the Czechs.
The mantra from within the Scottish camp is that they are at least making chances. Indeed, Clarke’s players are the fifth-most likely of the 24 contenders to shoot, but 57 per cent of their attempts are blocked – the highest in the tournament, before Monday’s fixtures – and they are also in fifth place for efforts from close range, in their case from an average of 16.4 yards.
In Group D they have had the highest number of attempts of the four contenders and the greatest number on target. Clarke has said more than once that there are goals in the squad and he repeated his assertion in his pre-match briefing. “If we keep creating the chances that we’ve created and we keep having the shots at goal that we’ve had in previous matches, then you’d like to think that luck will be on our side and one will hit the back of the net – or at least one,” he said.
Lyndon Dykes has been a regular first choice over the past year, although his personal tally of two goals from 14 appearances is low, even for a Scotland striker in recent times. That said, Clarke is an admirer of Dykes’ disruptive attributes which, when effective, as seen against England, create space in and around the penalty area for those around him.
The QPR forward has been partnered on several occasions with Celtic’s Ryan Christie, with mixed results. Ryan Fraser has formed another pairing with Dykes, who supplied the Newcastle man with the assist for his winner in the 1-0 Nations League victory over the Czech Republic at Hampden in October.
Oli McBurnie is another who has been stationed alongside Dykes but the fans and pundits have taken to Che Adams’ appearance in that role of late and when the Southampton forward netted against Luxembourg in the Scots’ final warm-up match this month, it was his Australian-born partner who supplied the assist.
As Scotland chase elusive goals, others must play their part and it was heartening to see Hendry score his first international goal against the Dutch on June 2. Kevin Nisbet, the Hibs player who scored 18 goals for his club this season, also netted his first Scotland goal within seconds of replacing Dykes against the Netherlands.
It seems likely that Dykes and Adams will start again tonight, although the manager was characteristically combative when asked what his head was telling him as he pondered his options for this potentially historic tie.
“It’s telling me what it always tells me when a press guy asks me to name my team – ‘F*** off !’- but I do have good options and that’s the beauty of the squad we have here.
“On the Sunday training session, we had the 13 boys who weren’t involved against England and the standard was of such an unbelievable quality that I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, these boys didn’t even get on the pitch against England!’.
“I felt fantastic after I watched that training session and that’s gives me hope that, no matter who I pick, he’ll come into the team and do fine.”
Meanwhile, as the Tartan Army prepare for another of Scotland’s heart-wrenching evenings, Liam Cooper anticipated the ferment that could attend this evening’s proceedings if the Scots should take the lead.
“It would be nice to score a few goals to be as certain as possible, obviously. That would be brilliant, but let’s get the three points,” said the Leeds United defender. “I’m sure that, if we do need goals, that message will come on to us – and we’ll go hell for leather.”