Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson are thriving together under Steve Clarke

Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson are thriving together under Steve Clarke

Since ending a 23-year wait to qualify for a major tournament, things haven’t quite gone to plan for Scotland.

But while a four-game winless run since that night in Belgrade is ringing some alarm bells ahead of this summer’s Euros, there are positives to take from the Scots’ start to World Cup qualifying.

They battled back twice to draw with Austria, a team ranked more than 20 places above them in the FIFA World Rankings and who had won five games on the bounce going in.

While the first half against Israel on Sunday night was one of the worst 45-minute performances since the Astana disaster, the second brought with it a change of tactics that was hugely encouraging, and suggested there is more to Steve Clarke’s team than keeping a robust shape and being hard to beat.

What caught the eye throughout both games was the blossoming understanding between Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson.

Scotland managers of the past have banged their heads off the desk trying to engineer a way to start both; we’ve seen Robertson on the left wing and Tierney at right-back, but until Clarke came along, it was always a case of crowbarring square pegs into round holes.

Andy Robertson hasn't been at his best for ScotlandAndy Robertson hasn't been at his best for Scotland
Robertson hasn’t been at his best for Scotland – but he’s getting there | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Over the last 180 minutes of football, though, we’ve seen them shine together in two different tactical systems, with neither looking out of place for a minute.

Just as it did against Serbia in Belgrade, Clarke’s signature 3-5-2 worked a treat against the Austrians at Hampden.

With Robertson hugging the touchline and Tierney marauding into space from left centre-back, Scotland’s two best players were the leading performers on the night.

The latter in particular was a revelation, seeing just as much of the ball as the captain despite his deeper role in the team. You could make the case that he actually had more creative freedom than the Liverpool man, who did the selfless work and kept Stefan Lainer penned in for long spells.

Tierney attacking from deep is becoming Scotland’s secret weapon, and it’s something that persevered even after Clarke switched to a back four in Tel Aviv on Sunday night.

With Jack Hendry withdrawn for Ryan Christie, Tierney took on the role of a traditional centre-half in a 4-2-3-1. It raised eyebrows, but it didn’t half work.

Sometimes to the horror of his partner Grant Hanley, he didn’t let the more conservative position limit his influence.

Regularly charging forward, taking control of the ball and supporting the midfield, the Arsenal defender continued to be one of the creative forces within the side. Robertson, meanwhile, was happy to let him go, and they quickly displayed a ‘you go, I’ll stay’ understanding that has obviously been perfected during nearly two years of Scotland camps under Clarke.

The result was a strong fight-back and it’s no surprise it was Ryan Fraser, occupying the space ahead of the duo, who fired in the equaliser shortly after the break.

It was once seen as Scotland’s downfall that their two best players were left-backs, but Clarke seems to have struck a compromise. While he isn’t getting the best out of either, he’s found a balance that gets them both functioning within the same team, no matter what the shape is.

It’s not yielding consistent results just yet, but ahead of Scotland’s big stage return in a few months’ time, it’s one big problem solved.

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