It’s ironic that in a bleak period that has seen Scotland ship 10 goals in just three Euro qualifiers, one of the few plus points has been the form of keeper, David Marshall.
And one of his predecessors with the international gloves, Rab Douglas, believes that if Steve Clarke can find a settled back-four to play in front of the Wigan shot-stopper, the Dark Blues can lift the gloom and kick on to success in the Euro 2020 play-offs in March.
Douglas, now goalkeeping coach at Arbroath, is an admirer of Marshall, having seen him progress from being a kid on the books at Celtic Park into one of the best in the country.
He told The Sunday Post: “David is an excellent goalkeeper. He is commanding, never flaps and generates confidence in those in front of him.
“He was coming through the ranks at Parkhead when I was there, and he was always a level-headed kid who just wanted to work hard and learn.
“I’m delighted that, 15 years on, he has gone on to have such a fine career. He fully deserves it.
“In what has been a testing time at international level, he has shone brightly for Scotland. He has been outstanding in the past few games and we are lucky to have him.
“Yes, we have still suffered some heavy defeats to Belgium and Russia, but David has still pulled off two or three top saves in every game. He can’t be blamed for anything we’ve conceded.
“It must give Steve Clarke some comfort to know that the No.1 position for the country is very much in safe hands.
“When you have a solid and dependable goalkeeper, then it allows you to build from there. We also have one of the very best full-backs in Andy Robertson.
“What we have to find is a settled defensive partnership. There are five or six candidates, and Steve has to find a settled pairing if he can.
“It’s easier said than done, and there is no magic wand. But, to move forward and progress, it’s vitally important to have it.
“Steve has to assess every option.
“I heard last week that Steven Caulker (currently playing with Alanyaspor in Turkey, having spent all his career in England bar a short spell with Dundee last year) might be in the running.
“Listen, if he has a Scottish grandparent, then let’s get him involved. But, of course, only if he is good enough.
“We play San Marino next, and the time to start getting it right is now.
“We haven’t got a lot of time to experiment. Let’s get a defensive partnership if we can, and go with them for the next three games before we go into the play-offs in March.
“I’m sure Steve will be thinking the exact same thing.
“Everything looks easy on paper, but it’s never straightforward to execute.”
Marshall won his 32nd cap in Moscow.
Right now, his only competition is coming from Jon McLaughlin of Sunderland – who wins his second cap this evening – and Portsmouth’s Craig MacGillivray, who has yet to be tested.
It’s not an ideal situation, and Douglas continued: “Even though we are fortunate to have David in goal, the strength of competition around him is not what it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.
“When you think back to just a few years ago, we had Allan McGregor and Craig Gordon in the same squad. Before that we had Andy Goram and Jim Leighton battling to be No.1.
“We had so many top goalkeepers to choose from.”
Douglas, who won 19 caps between 2002 and 2005, is desperate for Scotland to qualify for next summer’s Euro Finals.
Having been part of campaigns himself, he knows the lengths players and management will go to.
He said: “When you look back to the time of Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown, their records speak volumes.
“It’s hard to believe we have been away from the big parties for more than 20 years. It’s criminal, really.
“I was part of the Scotland set-up for a few years and we tried our very best. Berti Vogts was the manager and we had Paul Lambert and Barry Ferguson in the team, both top players.
“But we just couldn’t get over the line. We all gave it our very best but it wasn’t to be.
“We had bumps and bruises along the way, and I can remember getting pelters from the fans after we drew 2-2 against the Faroe Islands.
“The Tartan Army were justified in their criticism back then.
“All everyone wants now is to see them smiling and looking ahead to being at the Euro 2020 Finals.
“We are only two games away from achieving that.
“Yes, it doesn’t feel like we are in a great place just now, but it can change very quickly. Let’s be positive. Let’s beat San Marino and take it from there.”
Despite Steve Clarke’s poor start as Scotland manager – his record after five games only just beats Ian McColl and Berti Vogts – Douglas believes he is the man to deliver success.
He stressed: “I’ve had a look at Twitter and some online stuff in the past few days since we lost in Moscow.
“The so-called experts are saying that we shouldn’t have Steve in charge. What a load of nonsense.
“He has a top CV and had a solid spell for around 15 years working at Chelsea, Newcastle United and Liverpool.
“He also managed West Brom and Reading before coming back to Scotland to take over at Kilmarnock.
“His work over two seasons at Rugby Park was outstanding. He won the Manager of the Year two years on the trot from the Scottish Football Writers and guided Killie to wins over both Celtic and Rangers.
“He needs to be given time.
“Are people really serious when they suggest changing the manager again? Please, do me a favour.
“Steve was the outstanding candidate six months ago, and remains so. I have every confidence in him.
“The bottom line is that the Scotland manager’s job is still very prestigious, but it’s also helluva tough.
“In recent times we’ve had Craig Levein, Gordon Strachan and Alex McLeish.
“They are all very, very good managers, yet none of them have been able to take us to a Finals.
“I felt sorry for all of them when they lost their jobs. They are good men.
“We just need to hope that Steve is the man to deliver.
“We are in the play-offs in March and there is a lot to be optimistic about.
“But we will need to up the level and take it from there.
“Let’s hope we do it. I think we can and we will.”
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