STEVE Clarke may have taken Kilmarnock away from the Ladbrokes Premiership relegation zone and led them to third place in the top flight for the first time since 1966 as well as into Europe after an 18 year absence in the space of less than two seasons.

But can Clarke, who will today name his first squad since being named Scotland manager at Hampden, help the national team recover from the dire start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign and take them through to the finals next summer without needing to rely on the play-offs?

That may, even for a miracle worker like the former Newcastle United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa assistant, prove a challenge too far.

The 55-year-old certainly wasted no time in declaring that as his immediate ambition after being confirmed as Alex McLeish’s successor last week.

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“It is really important that we qualify out the group and don’t rely on the play-off games as a fallback,” he said. “Those games will be really difficult and will have a lot of pressure. It is really important we get out the group.

“The play-off has been mentioned a lot. The play-off, the play-off, the play-off. The play-off is for the future. I want to be going to play a friendly next March in preparation for the tournament, not the play-off games. Let’s concentrate on the group.”

He could hardly have said anything else. The optimism and positivity which his appointment generated would quickly have disappeared if he had declared that finishing in the top two in Group I and progressing automatically was beyond his men.

Clarke could conceivably turn things around, make the country competitive again, pick up a point or points in games they are not expected to and make it through to a major tournament for the first time since France ’98.

He certainly overachieved with, no disrespect to Kirk Broadfoot, Jordan Jones, Stephen O’Donnell and their team mates, a group of ordinary players and secured final league positions they had no right, given their limited budget, to occupy.

However, recovering from that catastrophic 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan in Nursultan back in March and finishing ahead of either Belgium or even, more realistically, Russia will be a tall order.

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For a start, he will be without key personnel like Ryan Christie, Leigh Griffiths, Steven Naismith, Callum Paterson and Kieran Tierney for his opening two matches against Cyprus at Hampden and Belgium in Brussels next month.

Yes, Andy Robertson, the Scotland captain who was the first person the new manager called on his first day in his new job, should, all being well, be there. The Liverpool left back may, depending on what happens in Madrid on Saturday evening, be a Champions League winner by the time he meets up with the squad.

But even if his team get the better of Cyprus on June 8 they will, in all likelihood, have to overcome World Cup quarter-finalists Russia both at home and away.

The 4-0 win the second seeds in their section eased to against Kazakhstan on the artificial surface Scotland struggled so badly on in the Astana Arena earlier this season indicates that will not be an easy task.

Clarke is unquestionably the best man for the job. It was a coup getting him. The fact that such an accomplished and respected coach is so enthusiastic and optimistic about the task ahead is heartening. Scotland will be committed, well-organised and difficult to beat under him. But there must be an appreciation of what he can do with the tools he has at his disposal too.

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There are certainly some good players. Scott Bain is a fine goalkeeper, defenders David Bates, Scott McKenna and John Souttar have shown they can cope with the step up to international level while Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest, Griffiths, Callum McGregor, Charlie Mulgrew, Naismith and Tierney have much to offer.

Elsewhere, Ryan Fraser was only behind Eden Hazard in the Premier League assists table this season and has been tipped to win a move to one of the major top flight clubs down south. Scott McTominay excelled for Manchester United at times this term and has enormous potential.

John Fleck, incredibly, hasn’t been capped yet, but will be playing his football in the top flight in England next term after winning promotion with Sheffield United. So, too, will Kenny McLean of Norwich City. And John McGinn will be joining them after helping Aston Vila win the Premier League play-off final yesterday

But in international terms Scotland remain limited. The play-offs offer them their best chance of ending that interminable wait to reach a major finals.

The decline of Scottish football has little to do with the man who stands in the dugout when the national side play. But he will be the one who takes the flak if they fail to deliver. Some understanding of what he is up against and some long-term thinking is needed.