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Gordon Smith: Steve Clarke can get Scotland playing above themselves

© Alex Grimm/Getty ImagesEden Hazard lit up the Europa League Final for Chelsea and will be tough for Scotland to contain
Eden Hazard lit up the Europa League Final for Chelsea and will be tough for Scotland to contain

As much as it seems wrong to think of Steve Clarke being a man already under pressure, a win against Cyprus on Saturday is crucial.

Why? Because of what went before the new manager’s opening game and what comes after it.

I am talking of the nightmare loss in Kazakhstan that helped usher in the change of coach, and the trip to Brussels on Tuesday week.

Belgium finished third in the World Cup last year, having been a little unlucky to lose out to the eventual winners, France, in the semis.

They also thrashed us 4-0 in a Hampden Park friendly last September which was designed to be a warm-up for the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Eden Hazard scored one and set up one that night in a man-of-the-match performance.

Anyone wondering what kind of form he will be in heading into this tie need only look at the highlights of Chelsea’s win over Arsenal in the Europa League Final last week.

Quite simply, the little midfielder was unstoppable.

If he plays like that against Scotland, our defenders are going to be in for a long night.

One of the main reasons Clarke got the post was his proven ability to turn tricky situations around quickly.

What he achieved with a struggling Kilmarnock squad was remarkable.

The fact he won the Manager of the Year award in two successive years, says it all about his efforts.

So don’t rule anything out, especially as the Cyprus match offers Clarke a good, if not perfect, start.

Scotland are at home and entertaining a country we would be expected to beat in the normal run of things.

Clarke has said he will send his team out to get a victory in that one, and look to take something from the Belgium match.

I like his positivity.

If we can pick up four points from the two fixtures, we will be well on track to repairing the early damage incurred in Kazakhstan.

That, we know, is how he works.

A stream of players have lined up to testify that he keeps things simple.

Players are encouraged to do what they are good at, and work with a system that makes the very most of the talent at Clarke’s disposal.

He is organised, he is meticulous in his preparation – as might be expected from someone who used to work under Jose Mourinho – and he is positive.

We have seen that in his selection of his backroom staff.

In quickly recruiting Alex Dyer and Steven Reid, he has gone for two guys who know exactly how he works, and will be able to carry out his wishes to the letter.

His first squad was a similar story.

Eyebrows might have been raised at the selection of four Killie players – Stephen O’Donnell, Greg Taylor, Stuart Findlay and Eamonn Brophy.

But these are guys Clarke knows he can trust to carry out his instructions to the best of their ability.

And don’t forget what they have already helped him achieve.

A feature of his time at Rugby Park was his insistence that, on their day, Killie could beat any team on the country.

His side attacked whenever possible when they were up against Celtic and Rangers, and got enviable rewards for their boldness.

Old Firm players, used to teams sitting deep against them, found themselves put on the back foot and they didn’t like it.

It will, I believe, be a similar story in Clarke’s time with the national team.

The gulf between Belgium and Scotland is comparable to that between Killie and Celtic or Killie and Rangers.

Therefore, we are talking about the type of game, which we would not expect to win but equally should not expect to lose every single time.

Unfortunately, in recent years we haven’t ever really been able to punch above our weight.

The hope is that is all about to change.

As Steve Clarke said at the end of his speech at the Scottish Football Writers’ Awards dinner this year, if he can return to complete the hat-trick next year, everyone in the country will be very happy.