Scotland 3-2 Israel: Gutsy decision to stick with formation pays off for Steve Clarke

Scotland are on track for a World Cup play-off after a thrilling win over Israel at Hampden.

Scotland under Steve Clarke have become synonymous with the 5-2-1-2 formation which has given them the opportunity to get the most out of their best players.

For Saturday’s match with Israel, the starting XI that the former Kilmarnock manager named was widely accepted as the nation’s best available with only the suspended Grant Hanley missing.

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The favoured formation was initially brought under previous boss Alex McLeish as a way of almost shoehorning in Scotland’s two world class left backs in Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney to the same line up.

Andy Robertson (back) and Kieran Tierney are both world class left backs and Steve Clarke has found a way to get them both in the stating XI and at their best for Scotland

Since then though, Clarke has found a way to not only include both the Liverpool and Arsenal stars in the same line-up but to also get the best out of both as they take turns overlapping, getting forward and providing superb deliveries with skipper Robertson in the wider role and Tierney playing as a left sided centre half.

It’s not just about the left flank though, there’s also the emerging Nathan Paterson who is able to provide real drive down the right hand side and the three man midfield of McGinn, McGregor and Gilmour who all bring superb composure and control.

However, regardless of the obvious attacking quality possessed by Scotland’s wing backs, having five defenders on the pitch is inherently defensive and that points brings us to Israel - more specifically the second half.

The first half hasn’t gone to plan, Scotland are 2-1 down and have seen a potential leveller saved from the spot. They need to find a way back into the game.

Lyndon Dyke’s 55th minute equaliser probably came at the perfect time, ten minutes later and the pressure to change things up might have gotten too great.

Even at 2-2, Scotland are pushing and pushing for a way ahead and there are murmurs in the crowd from the Football Manager experts to make a change.

After all, there’s real attacking talent on the bench that could potentially make the difference.

Ryan Fraser’s electric pace could be a nightmare for the tired legs of the Israelis, Kevin Nisbet knows where the back of the net is and David Turnbull has been showing the threat he can bring for Celtic in the Scottish Premiership this season.

Steve Clarke, stoic as ever in the Hampden technical area, doesn’t blink. He trusts the formation, trusts his tactics and most importantly he trusts the players on the park.

If the match ends 2-2 then he knows questions will be asked, why not change things when you needed a goal? Why not bring on another attacking option?

It would have been easy for a lesser manager to sacrifice a centre half, most likely eventual match winner Scott McTominay, in favour of a Ryan Fraser or a David Turnbull.

Clarke doesn't make that change, he brings on Ryan Christie for the injured Che Adams in a near enough like-for-like swap but otherwise sticks to his guns.

How different things might have been had he made that change, Israel were far from out of the game and Craig Gordon was called into action at 2-2 to deny a Zahavi header after the PSV danger man had split the defenders. How much more space and time might he have had with one less on the pitch?

So many ifs and buts when all that matters is that Steve Clarke made the right decision, he stuck with his tried and tested formation, knowing the blame was on him if they didn’t get the win.

It’s different words for different outcomes. If the game ends 2-2 the the head coach is perhaps “stubborn”, but they win and now he’s “resilient”.

In the end though, it all boils down to the same thing, Clarke’s trademark quiet confidence in both his won abilities as a coach and that of his players.

It was a huge feature of his success at Kilmarnock and he’s carrying it over to the national team now, giving the Tartan Army renewed fire in their bellies and belief in a side that some are already calling a “golden generation” of talent - but maybe let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, they haven’t qualified yet!

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