Scotland coach Steve Clarke defended Oli McBurnie after the striker missed opportunities to score his first international goal in the 1-0 loss to Slovakia.
The Sheffield United player won his 14th cap in place of suspended Lyndon Dykes. His latest appearance is only the sixth time he has made a debut for Scotland, but he played the 90 minutes of the Nations League loss to Trnava.
Despite the continued absence of a goal, Clarke pointed out that McBurnie put in a “good performance” because he held the ball well and won the headers.
McBurnie’s frustrations in front of goal continued despite hopes that his compound penalty in the spectacular Euro 2020 play-off win over Serbia could have improved his confidence levels. The forward took heavy hits twice in the first half when he got the chance to open his account and saw a header saved by goalkeeper Marek Rodak. Online judgment was again harsh from Scottish fans watching at home.
“I’m watching Oli’s overall game, why was Oli on the pitch? Clarke said. “He was there to hold the ball. He was on the pitch to win his heads. He was on the pitch for Ryan Christie and Stuart Armstrong to stand up and support him. And it all happened. So it was a good performance.
“Maybe he could have gotten his shot a little faster in the first half, but it was also good defense. Listen, the great man has to keep believing. He just needs to keep working as hard as he did in this game and the goals will come.
“I can’t speak to the criticism he receives on social media, but I can tell you that he has the support of everyone in the camp. And he knows it. Look, a goal would make a difference for any striker who’s on a scoreless streak. If he could get one sooner rather than later it would be better for him. But he has a lot of support from inside the camp.
“The team is united – we are not going in the race we were in without it – and everyone is together,” added Clarke. “We win together and we lose together and unfortunately tonight was a loss. But in football it does happen and there is definitely a way to lose. It is not a step backwards. “
Scotland now travel to face Israel in Netanya on Wednesday night in their final group match. Skipper Andy Robertson sat down against Slovakia after feeling his hamstrings tighten against Serbia as Clarke made eight changes to the team that made history in Belgrade. Although Liverpool face an important clash against league top Leicester City this weekend, the manager was hopeful Robertson would return against Israel.
“There were three or four players who could have done an extra 24 hours just to recover well,” Clarke said. “The game came a bit too early for them.
“Andy was probably a little worse than the rest, which is why I left him out. It would have been too big a risk. But he’s coming to Israel, so we’re going to assess him there and hopefully put him on the ground. It would be nice because we would like our captain to be on the pitch.