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4 Scotland Nations League talking points as Steve Clarke gets his team selection right and Anthony Ralston feelgood story goes on and on

Anthony Ralston celebrates scoring.
Anthony Ralston celebrates scoring.

Scotland are back to winning ways after comfortably seeing off Armenia in the first international between the two nations.

Courier Sport picks out four talking points from a one-sided contest that Steve Clarke’s men controlled from start to finish.

 

This was no Hampden wake

A Hampden buzz was always going to be a big ask given what happened seven days earlier in the national stadium.

Had Scotland beaten Ukraine and then Wales, this would have been quite the party.

As it was, there were more people on social media trying to give their tickets away than get their hands on one.

Scotland fans show their support.
Scotland fans show their support.

For an occasion that had ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ written all over it, though, the Tartan Army did a good job of making sure the Nations League campaign got off to flier.

It might not have been a celebration but it certainly wasn’t a wake.

They responded to stubborn Armenian resistance prior to the opening goal just before the half-hour mark as Clarke would have hoped them to – with patience.

Put on a front-foot performance, even when the wounds of World Cup qualification failure are still open, and Scottish fans will always back their team.

 

The right starting 11

Clarke came in for criticism for his team selection a week ago. And rightly so.

Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams is a partnership fit for playing minnows only; Aaron Hickey shouldn’t have been asked to make his debut in an unfamiliar position; and there were better options than Scott McTominay and Liam Cooper at centre-back.

For this one, it was much harder to find fault.

The balance of the side was much better across the pitch.

Square pegs were in square holes and none of the six players who came in let Clarke down.

More rotation will be needed to navigate the last two fixtures of a long season but this was a reminder that in most positions, the Scotland boss has the strength in depth to do it.

 

Anthony Ralston feelgood story continues

If there were any Dundee United or St Johnstone fans who saw a future Scotland goalscorer in Anthony Ralston, they kept it quiet.

The defender was a competent performer with the Tangerines in the Championship and Saints in the top flight – but nothing better.

When he left Perth to return to Celtic, a permanent departure from Parkhead appeared the likeliest next career move, probably to the English lower leagues or the bottom half of our Premiership.

Grasping his big club opportunity under Ange Postecoglou to become a title-winning first team regular and now his big international opportunity under Clarke has been arguably the feelgood player story of the season.

A man committed to whichever loan team he played for who refused to give up on his Celtic dream would have been enough on its own.

But for Ralston to look so at home on his first start for his country and head home the opening goal took it to a whole new level.

Different opposition and pressure, of course, but Ralston was an improvement on the much-hyped Aaron Hickey.

He wasn’t tested too much going backwards but his back post runs in attack were a key weapon for the Scots and could have produced more goals.

This won’t be Ralston’s last start in dark blue, that’s for sure.

 

The Nations League matters

OK, it’s not the World Cup but we should all know by now that these aren’t glorified friendlies.

Top this Nations League group and Scotland will be second seeds for the Euro 2024 qualifying draw and ensure there’s the safety net of a play-off.

This result and performance won’t define the mini-campaign – the games against Ukraine will likely do that – but they were much-needed.

The expectation should be that Scotland follow it up with two more victories in Dublin and Yerevan.

EXCLUSIVE: Dundee United manager Tam Courts wanted by Croatian side Rijeka

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