New campaign, same selection headaches for Scotland's Steve Clarke

By Clive LindsayBBC Sport Scotland
Billy Gilmour
Billy Gilmour was described as world class by Roy Keane

A fresh campaign brings hopes of a bright new beginning for Scotland, with a return to a major tournament now just months away.

On Tuesday, head coach Steve Clarke will name his squad for the start of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, which will also act as the last chance for him to cast an eye over those on the periphery of his Euro 2020 plans.

So might there be any surprise choices, or omissions, in the party who will host Austria on 25 March, visit Israel three days later then entertain Faroe Islands on 31 March?

Central midfield

For a spell last year, Billy Gilmour looked poised to thrust himself into the senior set-up. However, a serious injury, a change of manager and the Chelsea 19-year-old is not presently occupying the regular first-team spot Clarke had suggested was necessary.

Ryan Gauld was the Gilmour of his time and the 25-year-old has shown signs he might live up to his early promise after helping Farense win promotion to the top flight. Seven goals in 23 games this season is not a bad return considering his side - a Portuguese version of Ross County - are now battling against relegation.

David Turnbull has emerged from his own injury woes to become perhaps the only Celtic player to enhance his reputation during a season of turmoil in Glasgow's east end and the 21-year-old will surely be in Clarke's sights.

However, it's sod's law that the one area where young Scots are making a mark is in central midfield, one from which Clarke could already field a team of top operators.

David Turnbull
David Turnbull has arguably been Celtic's brightest light in a dull season


Much has been made of Scotland having two world class left-backs, not to mention an over-abundance of centre-backs who kick with that foot.

Not even the fact that Andrew Robertson's Liverpool are in freefall and Kieran Tierney's Arsenal are also in a disappointing mid-table position will give anyone hope of displacing them, but Aaron Hickey would have had aspirations of challenging Celtic's Greg Taylor as third choice after his move to Serie A.

However, after impressing in his early appearances for Bologna, the 18-year-old has mostly found himself on the bench since the turn of the year and his only start in their last seven games ended with a red card.

Now emerging Hibernian 18-year-old Josh Doig has probably overtaken him in the pecking order.

Right centre-back

Scott McTominay has emerged as Clarke's man of choice on the right of central defence, but is there anyone available to step into the breach should the head coach be tempted to move the 24-year-old to his preferred holding midfield role - one he presently occupies with the side sitting second in the Premier League?

Grant Hanley appears to be the favoured candidate. The 29-year-old was recalled last time round only to pull out through injury and is currently a regular in a Norwich City side now 10 points clear at the top of the Championship.

However, Jack Hendry will surely have also caught the eye as the 25-year-old continues to resurrect his career on loan from Celtic by helping Oostende to fourth spot in the Belgian top flight.

Stephen Welsh has made that position his own in recent weeks with Celtic, but Clarke is likely to prefer to test the 21-year-old at under-21 level first.

Jack Hendry (left) has been integral to Oostende's unlikely push for a Champions League place
Jack Hendry (left) has been integral to Oostende's unlikely push for a Champions League place


Stephen O'Donnell has performed admirably for Scotland considering he is stepping up from a Motherwell side in the bottom half of the Premiership, but are there any challengers to him and Liam Palmer, who is at relegation-troubled Sheffield Wednesday, on the right of defence?

Liam Smith recently stuck his hand up in the media, but Dundee United's form will not have helped his cause, while Shaun Rooney will probably have to build on his Scottish League Cup heroics with St Johnstone for a while longer to receive recognition.

Nathan Patterson also sprung to prominence with his Europa League goal against Royal Antwerp, but the 19-year-old was given a torrid time in the first half against Slavia Prague before steadying himself. He has promise, but is it too soon?


Lyndon Dykes was being looked upon as Scotland's saviour in attack after making an immediate impact following his decision to choose the dark blue ahead of the gold of his native Australia.

However, following a similarly instant impression after his transfer from Livingston to Queens Park Rangers, the 25-year-old has failed to score in 20 games since November and has been relegated to the bench in four of their past five games.

Fortunately for Dykes, and unfortunately for Clarke, the alternatives are not faring much better.

The two Olis, McBurnie and Burke, are in a fine mess with Sheffield United at the foot of the Premier League, neither is a regular starter and they have scored a grand total of two goals between them since the turn of the year (the latter with both in January).

Leigh Griffiths has found himself in a similar position with Celtic and, although Lawrence Shankland and Marc McNulty are at least starting regularly for Dundee United, they have looked shadows of their former selves.

Lyndon Dykes
Lyndon Dykes has not scored in his last 20 matches for Queens Park Rangers

Steven Naismith had been told he needed more football before earning a recall and the 34-year-old's lack of goals since December for a Hearts side in Scotland's second tier will not have done his chances much good.

Jordan Rhodes, remember him? At least he started and scored at the weekend, but his goal in struggling Sheffield Wednesday's 2-1 defeat by Norwich has probably come too late to earn the 31-year-old a recall.

Maybe it's time to make another approach to Southampton's England-born Che Adams? It will certainly be no surprise to see Ryan Fraser, back starting for Newcastle United, being handed a more forward role this month, as might fellow winger James Forrest had his return from long-term injury with Celtic come sooner.

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