Steve Clarke insists his under-pressure Scotland side know they must deliver a win in Saturday’s World Cup qualifying encounter with Moldova.
After only one victory in their opening four qualifiers and falling seven points behind group leaders Denmark, the Scots appear to be in a three-way fight with Israel and Austria to finish second and get a crack at a play-off.
The margin for error is minimal and Clarke admits there can be no slip-ups at home to Moldova on Saturday.
Clarke believes his players are well aware that victory is essential and has seen enough in training to be optimistic that they will turn up and perform at Hampden.
“We need points to keep us in contention so that come October, November we’re in the mix for qualification,” Clarke said. “We need a performance and a win against Moldova and that’s what we’re focusing on. We can’t think too much about the Austria game (on Tuesday), we have to win against Moldova.
“We have to win, nobody’s shying away from that. If we can win and play well, it will be great. If we can just win, that will be fine. Hopefully the performance and result marry up. We’ll be good though. The lads have been good in training.
“There’s a little edge to them, you can feel it. They know they’re going into a pivotal moment in the group so let’s see what we produce.”
With Scotland now seven points behind Denmark, Clarke concedes that his side are most likely playing for second place.
He said: “You always have to set out to get the maximum you can from any situation but obviously after Wednesday’s result it’s going to be more difficult to finish first. Is second still attainable? Very much so, yes.”
As optimistic as Clarke is about Saturday’s match, there is no chance of the manager treating Moldova lightly. The Eastern European minnows drew with Scotland in 2004 and made Austria work hard for their 2-0 victory on Wednesday.
Clarke said: “I expect a difficult test against Moldova. They’ll be well-organised defensively. I watched the game against Austria the other day. Austria got a goal in first-half injury-time and then (their second goal) in the 96th minute so they made it difficult for them.
“We expect them to be resolute. They’re a threat from set-pieces, as most nations are these days. We’ll treat them with every respect but we hope to put on a performance for ourselves and the fans.”
Clarke is looking forward to sending his side out in front of an unrestricted Hampden crowd for the first time since the pandemic began.
He said: “It’ll be great to have a full stadium of fans back. It was great to see the full stadium in Denmark the other night, and the passion of the Danish supporters. I’m sure the Tartan Army can give us that at Hampden. It’ll be a good for the players to have that again.
“They got a little taster of it with having 12,000 in for the Euros. They enjoyed the atmosphere so if we can get a good, fast start and get the crowd rocking, Hampden will be a nice place to be.”
Clarke’s optimism is fuelled by the return of four players to contention, with John McGinn, Nathan Patterson and Stephen O’Donnell available after Covid issues prevented them travelling to Denmark and Kevin Nisbet also back after a knock kept him out in midweek.
He said: “We’ve got pretty much a full squad. One or two have wee knocks from the other night but hopefully they clear up in time. There might be one or two changes. I’ll probably shuffle the pack a bit, to freshen it up in certain positions.”