JOHNNY RUSSELL was as demoralised as any of the 1000 Tartan Army footsoldiers watching on along with him as Scotland were torn apart in the second half by Russia in the Luzhniki Stadium on Thursday night. He understands they are hurting, and worse still, that the wider Scottish football public have just about given up the ghost on the national side.

The former Dundee United man has pleaded with the Scotland support to give Steve Clarke more time to turn things around though, saying that the players firmly believe the country’s fortunes will improve if the manager is given the chance to properly implement his philosophy.

He concedes that results and performances haven’t been good enough even in this transitional phase that the Scots are enduring, but that confidence remains high in the camp that they can get it right when it really matters.

“Every manager is different and the thing I’ve found with Steve Clarke is that he is very hands on,” Russell said.

“He wants to be on the training ground, and he hasn’t had enough time to put in the work that he feels is necessary to get the squad ready for these matches.

“International football is hard for coaches. The break might last for 10 days but some boys might be playing Sunday, arrive Monday and not be ready to train properly until Tuesday. When you’re flying out for a game in Moscow on the Thursday that is not ideal.

“In his case it’s been especially tough because this is a very short campaign and when he came in it had already started. To get everything across to your players in that kind of time frame is very difficult.

“We are prepared for the games, he is clear in his instructions, and everyone knows what is expected of them. But ideally, I think we would need a lot more time to work on everything.

“We have to believe it is going to turn. There is no point in sitting there thinking ‘oh no...’

“We have belief. The games have been difficult of late, the results have not been good enough, but this group has the confidence in itself. There’s no point saying it though, we need to go out and make it happen.”

If Scotland can do that to navigate two play-off matches in March to book themselves a place at Euro 2020, then that murky night in Moscow will just be consigned to history.

“We need to start gearing up for those matches now and prepare as if they are just round the corner,” Russell said.

“We can’t let negative thoughts come into it because we have a real opportunity in front of us. The goal all along has been to get to that tournament. The play-offs give us that chance and so we have something to aim at.

“It’s all doom and gloom at the moment but this can all turn very quickly. In less than a year’s time we could be playing at a major tournament.

“But there is now no room for error. We have to start getting it right.”

Russell is hoping for more than just a spectator’s remit when Scotland take on San Marino this evening after making the trip over from the USA, and while he knows that the Hampden roar will be little more than a whimper given the vast empty spaces that will be on display at the national stadium, it may present a golden opportunity for the Kansas City Wizards striker to add to the solitary goal he has in his 13 caps to date. That strike came earlier this campaign in Serravalle against tonight’s opponents.

“It’s always disappointing not to play but I’m just grateful to be called up,” he said.

“I’m hoping to get a wee shot on Sunday and hopefully we can get the result everyone needs. We’ll be looking to try and grab an early goal.

“We understand the crowd might not be the biggest or the noisiest so we’ve got to try and lift their spirits. We need to do something to get them out of their seats because we understand it is a difficult time for everyone right now.

“They were stuffy opponents over there and we expect more of the same. People expected that night to be a walkover but they are used to sitting in and trying to frustrate the opposition.

“We got the early goal through Kenny’s header but it became sort of frustrating after that. Eventually we managed to wear them down and get the second. We’re hoping Hampden, the bigger pitch, can play to our advantage.

“The onus is on its to go out and take the game to them and that’s what we intend to do. We will be looking for goals.

“Thursday was a disappointing night to say the least and it’s been a disappointing campaign overall. We are under no illusions about where we are. But it’s up to us. We need to get out of this rut, and we need to show a bit of fight.”