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Andy Skinner: Scotland’s late setback against Holland does not diminish richly valuable exercise for Steve Clarke

Steve Clarke.
Steve Clarke.

Scotland’s loss of a late equaliser against Holland did not detract from a valuable exercise for Steve Clarke ahead of Euro 2020.

It was particularly so in the face of so much selection disruption, given the absence of seven of his chosen 26-man squad for the finals.

Of those who were sidelined as a precaution following the positive Covid-19 test returned by John Fleck, the majority fell into the category of either likely or certain starters come the start of Group D against Czech Republic on June 14.

It would be wrong to call Scotland’s selection against Holland a weakened one though, as was proven in such a spirited showing against a Dutch side ranked 16th in the world.

Although they were denied a superb triumph by Memphis Depay’s late free-kick, a night which brought first national team goals for Jack Hendry and Kevin Nisbet is sure to provide the Scots huge confidence going into their first major tournament in 23 years.

Scotland’s Kevin Nisbet scores to make it 2-1 against Netherlands.

Scotland showed courage both in and out of possession against the Dutch, which bodes extremely well for when they face all three higher ranked nations in their group section next month.

That was evidenced best in the form of their stunning opener, when a high press prevented the Dutch from advancing upfield from their own goal kick. It was a combined effort from Armstrong and Hendry which gave the latter a sight of goal, with the defender’s crisp finish from the edge of the box the sort of moment every Scotland player would dearly love to replicate on the competitive stage.

Jack Hendry celebrates opening the scoring for Scotland.
Jack Hendry celebrates opening the scoring for Scotland.

As the Scots quickly found out though, the bounce game was also an exercise in being alert to the dangers posed by some of the strongest sides in the continent. The space afforded to Memphis Depay was far too generous to avoid the inevitable punishment which followed in his excellent finish.

That clearly leaves room for improvements to be made, however it proved to be Holland’s only attempt at goal until the latter stages which indicated the Scots were otherwise sufficiently rigid.

Stuart Armstrong battles Memphis Depay for possession.

Nisbet’s strike came from a sublime Andy Robertson cross, while debutant David Turnbull was a whisker away from sealing the triumph before Depay’s late second.

Scotland’s overall showing was a massively encouraging one, and all the more so in the backdrop of the adversity which they faced in the build up to their trip to Portugal.

Such issues have become a feature of football during the pandemic, and other teams – including those who Scotland will face – could plausibly suffer the same misfortune over the next month.

With that in mind it was no bad thing for Clarke to put the depth of his squad to the test, particularly when the bulk of absentees were sidelined as careful precautions who are likely to make a swift return to the fold.

Steve Clarke.

One imagines Clarke would have planned to field a stronger side than will face Luxembourg on Sunday. But there is little point hypothesising over how much different his selection would have been against Holland had David Marshall, John McGinn, Grant Hanley, Stephen O’Donnell, Che Adams, Nathan Patterson and Fleck been available.

It will therefore be interesting to see how the enforced changes affect his thinking ahead of the Scots’ final warm-up match against this weekend’s opponents, who are ranked 96th in the world.

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