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Scott McKenna to play key role? Ross Stewart debut? – The key issues facing Steve Clarke’s Scotland ahead of a pivotal window

Steve Clarke named his Scotland squad for the June fixtures on Monday
Steve Clarke named his Scotland squad for the June fixtures on Monday.

An expanded Scotland squad has been named by Steve Clarke ahead of yet another crucial international window for this side.

Scotland take on Ukraine on June 1 in their World Cup play-off semi-final, with the winner advancing to face Wales four days later for a place in Qatar.

There are then three Uefa Nations League games to factor in, starting with a home game against Armenia, before trips to Dublin to face Ireland and the return match against the Armenians in Yerevan.

We took a look at some of the key issues facing Clarke and Scotland ahead of a momentous few weeks.

Scott McKenna should be a key figure

Nottingham Forest's Scott McKenna battles for the ball with Sheffield United's Morgan Gibbs-White during the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final
Nottingham Forest’s Scott McKenna battles for the ball with Sheffield United’s Morgan Gibbs-White during the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final.

Former Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna is one game away from realising his old manager Derek McInnes’ prediction he would be a Premier League player.

McKenna has been a pivotal figure in Forest’s surge into promotion contenders under Steve Cooper and has always been a regular pick in the Scotland squad under Clarke.

The fact he has been playing on the left side of a back three at the City Ground should count in his favour, when Scotland are without Kieran Tierney.

McKenna does not offer the same attacking outlet as Tierney does from that role, but gives an aggression and physicality which should help in the tight encounters.

The Ukraine game comes three days after Forest’s play-off final against Huddersfield, so it remains to be seen if he will feature at Hampden.

But, with the potential of five games across two weeks, McKenna should have a big role to play.

Fitness concerns over Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour

The end of the Premier League season did not come without one or two casualties for Clarke.

Tierney was already a major doubt after undergoing knee surgery in April and these games come too soon for him to feature. Kenny McLean is also absent.

Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour is a doubt after rolling his ankle
Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour is a doubt after rolling his ankle for Norwich.

Billy Gilmour has endured a difficult season at the Premier League’s basement side Norwich City and ended his campaign on the treatment table with an ankle injury.

Nathan Patterson has managed just 45 minutes since joining Everton from Rangers in January and has also been sidelined since the start of last month with an ankle problem. The fact Clarke has selected two other right-backs – Stephen O’Donnell and Anthony Ralston – indicate serious worries about his fitness.

But their selection in the Scotland squad indicate the manager believes they will be able to play at least some part in the fixtures.

‘Loch Ness Drogba’ Ross Stewart deserves game-time

Ross Stewart celebrates his goal for Sunderland in the play-off against Wycombe Wanderers
Ross Stewart celebrates his goal for Sunderland in the play-off against Wycombe Wanderers.

A hugely popular figure on Wearside, the ex-Ross County striker Ross Stewart is ready to seize his opportunity with the national side.

Stewart has been a talisman for Sunderland in getting them promoted back to the Championship and scored at Wembley against Wycombe Wanderers in the play-off final.

He was given a call-up to the Scotland squad in March, but did not feature. The packed schedule should ensure his dream season is capped off by a Scotland debut.

Stewart gives Clarke a similar figure to Lyndon Dykes to freshen things up and – particularly in games against Armenia, where Scotland should be looking to take the initiative – the 26-year-old could feature.

Packed window means rotation is a necessity

Scotland manager Steve Clarke
Scotland manager Steve Clarke.

The Scotland boss has said previously it was difficult to see how the game against Ukraine would go ahead in June, but here we are.

It means, despite a busy domestic season just coming to a close, the players involved will potentially face another five games in 13 days.

As mentioned above, McKenna will be coming off a play-off final just before the Ukraine game, with captain Andy Robertson only due an extra day’s rest than the former Aberdeen defender as he takes part in Saturday’s Champions League final with Liverpool.

Clarke has named an even larger squad than normal to take these demands into account. The majority of players should feature at some stage as Clarke has to balance getting results with the physical exertions on already-tired players.

 

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