By Stewart Fisher

SCOTLAND assistant coach Alex Dyer insisted last night that the number of withdrawals and international retirements the squad has suffered in recent times should not be seen as a reflection on Steve Clarke.

The Scotland manager has seen his squad decimated for the Group E double header against Cyprus and Kazakhstan by the injuries reported by Premier League stars Andy Robertson and Scott McTominay (both ankle), Ryan Fraser (knee), Liam Cooper (groin) and Kieran Tierney (shoulder), with Newcastle United’s Matt Ritchie joining the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Allan McGregor in the list of players to have announced their international retirement under Clarke’s reign.

While Dyer hinted that Clarke and the SFA could consider getting tougher on clubs by invoking Fifa’s five-day rule should they suspect that they are obstructing his plans for the all important Uefa 2020 play-offs in March, he insisted the recent spate of call-offs were “genuinely injured” and it was unfair to extrapolate the withdrawals as any kind of slight upon his former Kilmarnock gaffer.

Having said that, if there is one lesson from the time the pair spent at Rugby Park it is that they are willing to knuckle down and get the best results from whatever resources they do have at their disposal. While more than three months will pass before the play-offs, good displays by stand-ins in the next week will go a long way to booking play-off spots.

“It is not personal, it is never going to be personal, it is football,” said Dyer yesterday. “You pick a squad and if they don’t want to be here or are injured then push them aside and take the ones that are here. There is no time for messing around.

“If there are lads who don’t want to be here that is fair enough,” ge added. “But the lads who want to be here are the ones we have to deal with and we will make sure we focus on them. We will make sure they are ready to go for the games.”

Would the SFA ponder invoking Fifa’s “five-day rule” should such a situation reoccur around those vital games in March? Perhaps.

“That is not for me to say,” said Dyer. “It’s maybe for the gaffer or the FA –whether we can go down that route a little bit.

“But the gaffer will look at it between now and March and see the players that are doing well with their clubs and pick them,” he added. “If they don’t want to come or are injured then we take the ones that are here and we make it work.

“It is a big opportunity for us to be in the play-offs and we want to be in a championship. Apart from that we have two games beforehand which we want to do well in. We want to finish this campaign well.”

Critics of the international scene will point to his selection for players such as Lewis Morgan and Greg Taylor, both of whom have struggled recently for first-team football recently at Celtic. Dyer is having none of it.

“It is all about standards and who is good,” said Dyer. “Just because you are not playing for your club does not mean you are a bad player. It just means that club has better players or the manager is picking players he trusts maybe more. It doesn’t mean Lewis is not a good player because he is. We have seen him work in the first camp he was here and he trained and played well. Lewis is a good lad who has played well for the 21’s and we are glad he is here.”

Stories surfaced last week linking Clarke with the vacancy at Stoke City which has subsequently been filled by his Northern Ireland counterpart Michael O’Neill. Dyer, one of Clarke’s closest confidants, insisted he wasn’t becoming demoralised by the difficulties of getting his best squad available on a regular basis.

“He knows what it’s about,” said Dyer. “He knows it’s hard work and there will be disappointments along the way. But, knowing the man, it’s about the ones who are here. They’re the ones who will make the difference. That’s all he focuses on.

“I don’t know anything about [the Stoke City link]. He’s Scotland manager and his focus is on Scotland, nothing else. That’s the truth.”