Steve Clarke’s latest Scotland squad announcement brought Tayside torment, with Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland losing his place and St Johnstone’s Betfred Cup heroes failing to be rewarded.
There had been hope in Perth that Jason Kerr and Shaun Rooney would be called up on the back of their impressive performances in recent months.
But Clarke turned to ex-Dundee man Jack Hendry and Grant Hanley for his central defensive reinforcements and stuck with Stephen O’Donnell and Liam palmer as his right-back options.
Shankland, who has three caps to his name, has been left out along with Leigh Griffiths to make space for Southampton’s Che Adams and Hibs striker Kevin Nisbet.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) March 16, 2021
“I’m trying to improve the team going forward,” said Clarke. “I’m trying to make us more of a goal threat without losing the solidity that we have at the back.
“Our last two 1-0 defeats were tight. They were good performances but we didn’t get the goals that would have got us the results in those games and that’s something we have to improve on.
“We can’t be complacent or think we have cracked it just because we’ve qualified for a major tournament. We want to qualify for the next one and to do that you have to keep improving the squad.”
Clarke got in touch with Shankland personally to explain his omission for the World Cup qualifying triple-header.
He said: “The ones who were in the squad in November, I’ve obviously phoned them to let them know they are not in this selection, tell them a little about why they’ve not been selected and what they can do to get involved again.
“Those conversations have to remain private but they all know where they stand.
“They took the message in the right way and want to be part of the squad moving forward which is great even though they’ve suffered the disappointment of not being involved this time.
“People like David Turnbull, Nathan Patterson, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Gauld are all young players with good prospects.
“But the likes of Turnbull has to break into the team in front of McGinn, McTominay, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie and Ryan Fraser – it’s an area of the team we are very, very strong in – and we also have to be very careful not to lose the dynamic of the squad.
“The time will come for these other players but, at the moment, it’s about getting the balance right so that we move forward in an organised manner.”
On the right-back situation, Clarke said: “You never know what’s going to happen. That’s one thing I’ve learned in this job, you can’t look too far ahead, especially with things like Covid and all the restrictions that might fall on us.
“But what I would say is, people are quick to knock Stephen O’Donnell but he’s been fantastic for the national team.
“If you took away the name of the player and the club that he plays for, people would be saying: ‘What a really good player’.
“He’s never let me down. He’s never let the team down or let the country down. And Liam Palmer is similar.
“He’s a back up to Stephen and any time I have asked him to play he has done well for us.”