HAS there ever, to use the old football cliché, been a game of two halves quite like it?

In the opening 45 minutes in the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday evening Scotland gave their long-suffering supporters hope for the future with a performance that was, while far from perfect, full of poise and purpose. The national team deserved to be level going into the break. But after half-time they reverted to their usual selves and gifted their hosts four goals with criminal lapses in concentration and unforgivable individual errors.

There was, despite the heavy 4-0 defeat, much for national manager Steve Clarke to be encouraged about. But to win the final three Euro 2020 qualifiers, lift sagging spirits and go into the play-offs next March on a run of good form he must address the long-standing issue that proved so costly for his predecessors Gordon Strachan and Alex McLeish.

Otherwise, the lack of a top quality centre half and the alarming ease with which opposition teams score goals against his men will prevent him from securing a place at next summer’s finals.

Clarke was without no fewer than six players in the specialist position this week. He had to field Mikey Devlin, an uncapped player who had been left on the bench by Aberdeen last weekend, alongside Charlie Mulgrew in the heart of his rearguard. It was far from ideal going into such a difficult away fixture. Especially with a certain Artem Dzyuba, the 6ft 5in striker, leading the line for the hosts.

However, would David Bates, Liam Cooper, Craig Halkett, Grant Hanley, Scott McKenna or John Souttar have made that much of a difference to the final outcome? They have all, Halkett aside, been tried at international level in the past without ever being wholly convincing. No, the solution to this long-standing problem lies elsewhere and requires a little thinking outside of the box.

Clarke must move Kieran Tierney - the former Celtic left back who has returned to action after a long-term injury lay-off with Arsenal, the London club he joined in a Scottish record £25 million transfer this summer, in recent weeks and impressed – inside if his team are to qualify for their first major tournament since France ’98.

Tierney has played at centre half before for both his club and his country. He fared well there in the friendly international against the Netherlands at Pittodrie back in 2017 and drew praise from both Malky Mackay, the caretaker manager that evening, and Brendan Rodgers, who was still in charge at Parkhead at that time, for his assured individual display.

Rodgers stated afterwards that the defender had the technical attributes and football intelligence required to play there and, in fact, was well suited to the demands of the role. The Northern Irishman was of the opinion that the multiple Scottish Young Player of the Year award winner’s lack of height wouldn’t prove an issue as long as there were individuals in the side who were able to deal with high balls into the box at set pieces.

Asked if Tierney could operate at centre half for his country, Rodgers said: “Yes, for sure. Especially if you play with a three. He can play on the outside of a back three absolutely no problem. He wants the ball, he can play, he is quick. He is very multi-functional.” It is certainly worth seriously considering.

Clarke admitted the goals that Scotland have conceded from corner kicks and free-kicks since he came in are a major worry for him and admitted that he could have to look at changing the make-up of his back line in future.

“That’s a big concern,” he said. “When you look at the goals we’ve conceded from corner kicks it’s not really about our organisation. It’s been about one-v-one battles as the balls come in. When that happens I need to look at the personnel. I always try to leave one or two players up the pitch to give you a chance to get out from a corner. But maybe we’re getting to the stage where we need to bring everybody back and pack the penalty box.”

Handing the Arsenal man, who should be available to return to Scotland duty in the Group I games against Cyprus away and Kazakhstan at home next month, an extended run-out at centre half would be a smart move. It would certainly enable him to field both Tierney and his Liverpool counterpart Andy Robertson in the same starting line-up.

The Scotland manager bemoaned the lack of confidence that was evident in his players’ display in Moscow after demoralising losses to Belgium away and Russia and Belgium at home. Tierney has never been short of self-belief despite his youth and would undoubtedly rise to the challenge if he was asked to switch from his favoured left back berth to centre half. He coped well enough, including against England, when Strachan moved him across to right back during his tenure.

“The game just ran away from us, and that can only be a mental fragility on the back of two or three heavy defeats,” said Clarke. “It’s only results that changes that, only results.”

The former Chelsea and Liverpool assistant manager appreciates the turnout for the visit of San Marino at Hampden tomorrow will be low due to the quality of the opposition, the four game losing run his team are on and the fact the encounter is, with any chance of qualifying automatically through their section now gone, a meaningless fixture. Still, he remains determined to turn the jeers into cheers in future to repay the fans for their backing.

“The supporters who went to Moscow were great,” he said. “I bumped into one or two of them when we went to Red Square on the afternoon of the game. They spend a lot of money following the team and I’d love to have given them something to smile about. But at this moment in time we have to be honest and say we’re struggling. We’re low in confidence. The only way to change that is to work hard.

“We are now at home to San Marino on Sunday - I’m not sure there will be a big crowd there - but whatever crowd we get we need to go out and do our very best to make sure we turn the corner. It’s difficult for me to say to the fans they’ve got to come to Hampden. I would love it if they did turn up. But we have to accept that at this moment in time our results aren’t encouraging the supporters to come and watch us. We’ll just need to keep working and try to turn the corner.”