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Scotland boss Steve Clarke urges nervous strikers to handle the pressure of World Cup qualifier

Scotland head coach Steve Clarke
Scotland head coach Steve Clarke

Scotland boss Steve Clarke has urged his nervous attackers to relax and handle the pressure of the World Cup qualifier against Austria.

Goal-shy Scotland have netted just twice in the previous five games, despite having 62 shots at goal.

The Scots had 16 attempts at goal against Moldova in a Group F qualifier, but could only edge past the minnows, 175th in the FIFA world rankings, 1-0 at Hampden.

Clarke believes his attackers are snatching at chances due to the pressure of games.

Ahead of a high stakes Group F qualifier in Vienna, the national boss has called on his strikers to be calm and handle the heat.

Scotland’s Lyndon Dykes (number 9) celebrates making it 1-0 against Moldova at Hamdpen.

Clarke said: “We have to learn how to handle that pressure a little bit better and stay relaxed on the last touch.

“For the players it’s just something that probably comes with the pressure of the games.

“That’s all it is. Just stay relaxed.

“We’ll try and be calm.

“But when the games are tight, it’s more difficult.

“Obviously shooting in training is different from shooting in games.

“Getting a chance in the game, with the pressure of the situation when it’s 0-0, probably makes you tighten up.

“It’s probably more in the mind than actually in the technique.

“If you’re winning the game 3-0, you probably relax and stroke the ball into the bottom corner.

“I think if we’d got a second goal against Moldova we’d have ended up getting three.

“We’d have been more relaxed and not so tight.”

Kieran Tierney in action for Scotland during a World Cup qualifier match against Moldova at Hampden

What Clarke wants from his strikers

Currently sitting third in Group F, Scotland hold a  one-point advantage over an Austrian side reeling from a heavy 5-2 defeat to Israel at the weekend.

Clarke has three centre-forwards available for selection tonight in Lyndon Dykes (Queens Park Rangers), Che Adams (Southampton) and Kevin Nisbet (Hibs).

Attacking midfielder Ryan Christie (Bournemouth) can also play up top as well.

Clarke said: “What do I want from them (strikers)?

“Obviously I want hard work.

“To use Lyndon for example I want him to link well.

“Che gives us something different, something unpredictable.

“Kevin is a natural finisher, although none of the chances actually fell to Kevin the other night against Moldova.

They are all good, honest players and they work hard for the team, that’s something they have to do.

“The goals will come.”

Scotland manager Steve Clarke

“Maybe the one in the first half which he didn’t get out of his feet quick enough to get his shot away, that would be the only one he’s disappointed with.

“But he also created two big chances, created the pass for Nathan (Patterson) to have the shot that Lyndon scored with.

“Kevin also created the ball inside when Billy (Gilmour) could maybe have scored in the second half.

“They all give me different qualities.

“They are all good, honest players and they work hard for the team, that’s something they have to do. The goals will come.”

Lyndon Dykes netted the only goal in the World Cup qualifier defeat of  Moldova.

‘I will get two fresh forwards on the pitch’

QPR striker Dykes scored in each of the three Championship games for his club before the international break.

Dykes netted the only goal against Moldova.

Clarke said:  “Lyndon has started the season well and has a few goals.

“He came here with a bit of confidence.

“Over three games in six days it’s a big ask to play somebody in all three, especially when you are asking for that physical shift up front.

“I have tried to spread the load a little bit across the strikers.

“I will get two fresh forwards on the pitch in Austria.”

Beware threat of wounded Austria side

Austria have been rocked by the shock loss to Israel in Haifa at the weekend.

Such was the manner of the defeat, Real Madrid star David Alaba admitted ‘something is wrong’ within the Austrian camp ahead of the clash with Scotland.

Alaba played all 90 minutes for Austria in the heavy loss in Israel.

Austria will also be without central midfielder, 26-times capped 1899 Hoffenheim central midfielder Florian Grillitsch, through suspension.

In another blow, new £15 million Bayern Munich midfielder Marcel Sabitzer was ruled out of Austrian squad for the clash with the Scots due to a groin strain.

Despite the troubles in the Austrian squad, Clarke and the Scots will take nothing for granted against a side that reached the last 16 of Euro 2020 before losing out to eventual tournament winners Italy in extra-time.

Clarke said: “Austria are the second seeds in the group so we have to go and give a good performance.

“They’ve had one or two injury issues, the same as us.

“I believe they have quite a significant suspension too with one of their midfield players.

“I believe Grillitsch is out with two yellow cards.

“Austria haven’t had their problems to seek, but sometimes that can galvanise a group of players so we need to make sure we’re ready for them and deal with what they can throw at us.

“Hopefully for us it’s another clean sheet and a good performance.”

Three out… but it could have been worse

Clarke’s preparations for the qualifier in Vienna have been hit with the loss through injury of Ryan Fraser, Kenny McLean and Nathan Patterson.

Right-back Patterson (Rangers) and former Aberdeen midfielder McLean (Norwich City) played in Saturday’s 1-0 win against Moldova.

McLean and ex-Aberdeen winger Fraser (Newcastle United) featured in Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Group F leaders Denmark in Cophenhagen.

Clarke insists squad could have been even thinner for the Vienna showdown as eight players were injury concerns following the defeat of Moldova.

He said: “Unfortunately Nathan and Kenny picked up knocks in the game against Moldova. With the quick turnaround, they have no chance of making this one.

“They couldn’t even have made the bench for us.

“Ryan was even more unfortunate by picking up a knock in training on Sunday, which has turned out to be more than we thought it was.

“So we’ve lost three players.

“But, on the positive side, I did say after the game the other night that we had seven or eight doubts. So five of them came through alright.”

Nathan Patterson celebrates after his shot is tapped in by Lyndon Dykes as Scotland go 1-0 up against Moldova.

Failed attempts to bring in reinforcements

Uncapped Hibernian defender Paul McGinn, 30, has been called up for for the Austria match.

The national boss also revealed he has made thwarted attempts to take in further reinforcements during the international break.

Clarke said: “Circumstances dictate that Paul was the player we brought in.

“He wasn’t on stand-by because I didn’t think I was going to lose Ryan Fraser especially, who can cover at right wing-back.

“That was a late one, but we managed to get Paul Covid tested and into the camp.

“But he’s not the first one we tried to bring in over the camp. But circumstances sometimes go against you and you don’t manage to get the boys in.”