Steve Clarke was full of praise for his squad after sealing Nations League promotion but the Scotland manager insists that is only the beginning of the journey as he challenged his players to keep improving.
Scotland secured top spot in Group B1 with a 0-0 draw in Krakow following back to back Hampden wins over Ukraine and Republic of Ireland.
The feat brings not only brings promotion to the elite level of the next Nations League, but it also earns Clarke’s men a place among the second seeds for the Euro 2024 qualifiers and a guaranteed play-off spot to qualify for that tournament should they need it.
The former Kilmarnock manager admitted he was forced to press the “reset button” after two heavy defeats in the summer when Ukraine ended their World Cup dreams before a loss to Ireland in Dublin.
But they responded by taking seven points from three games in the last six days to secure top spot.
Clarke said: “I sat down with all my staff and said ‘we have to set a different environment, we have to be more demanding of the players, we have to push that agenda’.
“Then I sat with the players and we went through what we did well in the summer, what we didn’t do so well.
“We gave them a lot of information to change the system, to play a slightly different way.
“These players are desperate to play for their country, they have taken it on board and had a really good week.”
Clarke, who pointed out his contract expires before Scotland’s next Nations League campaign, added: “Sometimes it doesn’t work out for us but they are always determined to do well.
“We went to Serbia and got the result in the play-off to take us to our first major finals in such a long time. We had the European Championship and took it to the last game and just came up short.
“We then had a really good group campaign in the World Cup and came up just short in the play-off.
“I asked the players before the game, we have done it again, we have taken this campaign to the last game. Let’s make the next step so we can show everyone how we are improving. I said let’s make sure we take the next step. Then we will feel good about ourselves.
“The supporters were magnificent, the connection between the supporters and players is fantastic. That’s what we are working towards.
“Now we have reached pot two and in the A group of the Nations League. We don’t want to stop, we want to keep on getting better and better if we can.”
Clarke hailed his central defenders after the crucial clean sheet, with debutant Ryan Porteous impressing alongside Jack Hendry.
“Porteous was outstanding for a debut, I’m so pleased for the boy,” Clarke said. “It shows he listens, it shows he learns.
“I am also really pleased for Jack Hendry. It was a big ask for Jack. Everyone expects Callum McGregor to play three games in a short time at that intensity. Everyone expects John McGinn can do that. I had to ask Jack Hendry to do that again.
“He was struggling a little bit with a cold, his performances were outstanding in the three games. It’s nice to get a clean sheet again, it makes me happy as a coach.”
Clarke had lost eight players from his original squad through injury and suspension while others were struggling with a sickness bug.
“Sometimes that can galvanise you,” he said. “Maybe I over-egged the illness a little bit just to galvanise us going into the game.
“The only thing I was mindful of was if someone had woken up with the same bug then they wouldn’t have played.”
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