Who played when Scotland met Cyprus in Steve Clarke's first game?

Steve Clarke's first game in charge was against Saturday's Euro qualifier opposition.

Scotland v Cyprus 2019: Who played in Steve Clarke’s first game? SNS Group

When Steve Clarke leads his Scotland team out to face Cyprus on Saturday afternoon, he won’t just be embarking on a new qualification campaign and aiming for three points.

After signing a contract extension to take him through to the next World Cup, attention will be on the challenges of the future.

There will also be a nod to the past though, as the national team boss will be coming full circle and facing the team that provided the opposition for his first game as Scotland manager.

Clarke’s tenure began in 2019 with a Euro 2020 qualifier against Cyprus and he managed to deliver a winning start with a 2-1 victory.

Steve Clarke saw his side net a late winner to take three points from his first game in charge. (Photo by SNS Group)

Andy Robertson put Scotland ahead after just over an hour, but Cyprus silenced the 31,000 home crowd with an equaliser three minutes from time. What looked like a dismal start to a new era became a lot brighter when Oliver Burke knocked in the rebound after heading off the post.

The time since then has seen Scotland enjoy play-off joy, a return to a major finals and the disappointment of missing out on Qatar 2022, as well as other highs and lows in between.

Clarke has aimed for consistency in performance and in his squad but over nearly four years the group of players has evolved.

We’ve taken a look at the team from the manager’s first game and where those players are now.

Just over 30,000 supporters turned out for Clarke's first game in charge.

David Marshall

Just like this weekend, Clarke had a major decision to make on his goalkeeper and he called on Wigan keeper Marshall to replace Scott Bain between the sticks.

Marshall had spent three years on the outside looking in, his last appearance having come in the 3-0 defeat to Slovakia in 2016.

Clarke’s appointment was the beginning of a rejuvenation of the goalkeeper’s international career. He would go on to play 19 more times for his country and play at a major championships.

The highlight, of course, was the penalty save against Serbia that ensured Euro 2020 qualification and ended Scotland’s exile from big tournaments.

Stephen O’Donnell

Stephen O'Donnell was a regular pick by Steve Clarke in his first years in the job. (Photo by SNS Group)

Clarke’s transformation of Kilmarnock had already had a positive effect on O’Donnell, with his form in Ayrshire earning him Scotland call-ups and seven caps before his club manager became his international boss.

Unsurprisingly, Clarke kept faith with O’Donnell for his first game at Hampden and beyond, with the right-back playing another 19 internationals.

Though increased competition has seen O’Donnell slip down the pecking order and not in the current squad, he equalled the Scotland caps record at current club Motherwell.

O’Donnell’s last cap came a year ago in Scotland’s 2-2 draw in Austria.

Charlie Mulgrew

First capped in 2011, Charlie Mulgrew brought experience and versatility to Scotland’s back line and he had scored in his previous international appearance, in a 2-1 defeat in Israel the previous October.

Having missed the five games since, he went straight in to Clarke’s first team but the new manager’s arrival, and subsequent results, were to draw a close on his international career.

After the win over Cyprus, Mulgrew only played in four more internationals: the bruising home and away defeats to Belgium and Russia that underlined how far Scotland had to go.

The former Celtic and Aberdeen player, who earned 44 caps in all, left Blackburn in 2021 to join Dundee United where he is currently working to avoid relegation to the Championship.

Scott McKenna

Scott McKenna made his debut the previous year, starting against Costa Rica in March 2018 and gathering ten caps before Clarke’s arrival.

The new boss kept faith with the centre-back and has done since, with the former Aberdeen stopper becoming a Scotland regular.

Now at Nottingham Forest, where he’s played 18 Premier League games this season, McKenna is on 29 caps and looks set to earn plenty more. A hamstring injury has ruled him out of the current squad but he is still in Clarke’s plans.

Andy Robertson

On taking the job, one of the questions being posed to Clarke was how he would accommodate his two outstanding left-backs in the same team.

Celtic star Kieran Tierney and Liverpool’s Champions League-winning full-back Robertson both had plenty of weight to their claim to be included and every supporter wished there was the same level of competition elsewhere on the park.

Clarke would find a system that allowed both to flourish, but in his first match there was no decision to make with Tierney absent through injury.

Robertson wore the captain’s armband and set Clarke on the path to victory with the opening goal against Cyprus, a rifled shot that was his third in a Scotland shirt.

Now on 60 caps, Robertson is expected to lead the team out against Cyprus on Saturday as he continues to be a key player for Clarke’s Scotland.

John McGinn

Another Hall-of-Famer, Tartan Army favourite John McGinn had three years of Scotland experience behind him when Clarke arrived and has thrived since.

Given the nod in a midfield trio against Cyprus, McGinn would take on a slightly more advanced role in the games that immediately followed, with seven goals in the next six games in 2019.

Now with 15 goals from 52 caps, the Aston Villa star is a fixture in Scotland’s midfield and a player Clarke will depend upon through the new qualifying campaign.

Kenny McLean

McGinn’s former St Mirren teammate Kenny McLean had scored his only goal for his country in the 2-0 win over San Marino just before Clarke’s appointment and he kept his place when the new manager drew up his first team sheet.

A regular in Clarke’s squads and in games since then, McLean was one of the players who scored from the spot in the Euro 2020 play-off against Serbia. However, a knee injury ruled the midfielder out of the finals when he was a certainty to be part of Clarke’s squad.

McLean is in the squad for the upcoming double-header and could feature against Cyprus again.

Callum McGregor

Callum McGregor has been a key player for Scotland during Clarke's reign as boss. (Photo by SNS Group)SNS Group

Callum McGregor was just 11 games into his Scotland career when the current manager was appointed and he now stands just one cap short of the half-century and a mainstay in the national team.

Now captain of Celtic and a leader for club and country, McGregor achieved the distinction of being the first Scotland player to score at a major finals in 23 years when he netted against Croatia.

James Forrest

Another Celtic star was part of Clarke’s first team and Forrest was in good international form at that time. A five-goal burst across two games against Albania and Israel had helped him be named International Player of the Year by Scottish football writers.

The hat-trick against Israel secured the play-off place that led to Euro 2020 qualification and Forrest was part of the squad for the finals.

Despite piling up trophies at Celtic over the last decade or so, the winger’s return of 38 caps is probably fewer than he may have expected. With increased competition at club level, and not having been part of recent squads, the talented forward’s time in Clarke’s plans appears to be over.

Eamonn Brophy

 Eamonn Brophy (right) was a surprise selection up front for Scotland.

No Scotland manager has been blessed with an abundance of prolific goalscorers in recent years and Clarke faced a tough decision on who to call on for his all-important first match.

Having earned the job off the back of his Kilmarnock achievements, the manager plumped for his former charge at Rugby Park.

The match against Cyprus proved to be Brophy’s only international cap, with Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams soon arriving on the scene and cementing their places as the preferred options up top.

Brophy moved from Kilmarnock to St Mirren in 2021 and is currently on loan at Ross County.

Ryan Fraser

First capped in 2017 and with 26 caps since, there’s been no doubting what Ryan Fraser’s attacking and versatility has brought to the team when he’s on song.

Just prior to Clarke’s appointment the winger had to defend himself after being criticised for missing a Scotland game against Kazakhstan due to it being played on an artificial surface but he was called up and started the Cyprus game.

He went on to be a regular member of the squad and made a contribution as a relatively long unbeaten run was put together but then was absent from the squad for ten months after being filmed training with his club when he had withdrawn from Scotland duty injured.

Clarke has since said that if playing regularly at the top level, the player has to be considered for Scotland. Currently training with the kids at Newcastle and not in Eddie Howe’s plans, Fraser would need a move and a run of form to get back in the Scotland picture.

The substitutes

Oliver Burke (left) and Tom Cairney were among the Scotland substitutes. (Photo by SNS Group)

Goalkeepers Scott Bain and Jon McLaughlin are both suffering from a lack of club football and consequently not in the Scotland reckoning.

Stuart Findlay didn’t get off the bench against Cyprus but the defender Clarke had relied upon at Kilmarnock did make his debut, and scored, against San Marino later that year. Now at Oxford United after a spell in Philadelphia, Findlay hasn’t been in the frame recently.

John Souttar’s continued injury problems have undoubtedly cost him a number of caps. A goalscoring performance against Denmark in 2021 underlined his ability but it was one of only three Scotland appearances since the Cyprus match. Souttar has returned to action for Rangers after another long injury lay-off but will be targeting a regular first team place before an international call.

Greg Taylor was another of Clarke’s Kilmarnock dependables and, though he didn’t get a chance in that first game and has serious competition for a left-back place, he’s gone from strength to strength. Now an important player for Celtic, Taylor has ten caps to his name and is only missing from this squad due to injury.

Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong had to settle for a place on the bench when Clarke named his first team but came on as substitutes before the late drama. Both have enjoyed big moments in dark blue as the team has improved and they are both likely to play a part in the qualifiers over the next week.

Johnny Russell scored against San Marino just a couple of months before Clarke took over and had been a squad regular for a few years before that. The Sporting Kansas City forward’s chances of selection were disrupted by Covid and travel restrictions and he has slipped out of the international scene in the time since.

Tom Cairney had only featured twice for Scotland in friendlies by the time of Clarke’s arrival and never managed to fulfil his aim of becoming a regular. Still at Fulham, the veteran midfielder is no longer a first team starter.

Marc McNulty was a relative newcomer to the squad by the time of the Cyprus game as Scotland looked for a dependable striker but never managed to make a convincing pitch for a regular spot. The forward earned two caps but a lack of goals during spells at Sunderland, Hibs and Dundee United meant he didn’t come into Clarke’s thoughts once Adams and Dykes committed to Scotland.

Oliver Burke came off the bench to score the winner and give the manager his winning start but that proved to be a high point for the well-travelled forward. Burke commanded multi-million pound fees from RB Leipzig and West Bromwich Albion early in his career but has failed to settle and deliver consistent results, having played at Celtic, Alaves, Sheffield United, Werder Bremen and Millwall since 2019.

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