By Stewart Fisher

STEVE Clarke insists that tonight’s Hampden showdown against Kazakhstan isn’t a revenge mission. But don’t tell that to his players. For some, this is a sporting sequel which has got personal and no-one was more traumatised by the nightmare in Nursultan in March than Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna.

While the big centre half is sweating on his starting place after an uncomfortable afternoon in Nicosia, he is determined to avenge the 3-0 defeat to the Kazakhs which doomed our Group I campaign before it really got started. Caught square as Yuriy Pertsukh fired in the opener, the space between McKenna and left back Graeme Shinnie was exploited for Yan Vorogovskiy’s second then caught under the ball as Baktiyar Zaynutdinov nodded in the clinching third, no wonder he is seeking some recompense for it all at Hampden tonight in a match where victory would clinch third spot in Group I.

“That was probably one of my worst experiences in a Scotland top,” recalled McKenna. “So hopefully - if I play - I get the chance to put things right and we put in a good performance.

“That was it pretty much, a night where everything went wrong,” added the 23-year-old. “I try not to think about it too much, just try to leave it in the past and focus on the game we’ve got coming up.

“It was that early in the campaign that there was actually a chance to overcome it, but of course it was a massive problem to be overcome early doors and we haven’t been able to do it. It shows you that you need to win every game, you can’t just throw away points the way we have. But if we can make it three wins in a row against them tonight it would bring a lot of confidence to the squad and hopefully to the fans ahead of March.”

Saturday in Cyprus was a chastening occasion for Kenna. Central defenders can often look silly when the system leaves them exposed but this honest big fellow knew there was no hiding place after a display on Saturday which could have been even more costly. Turned inside out by Giorgos Efrem of Cyprus on the edge of the box, he was grateful that the match official couldn’t see that the ball was over the line. Even more frustrating for the 23-year-old was the amount of soft free kicks he conceded in dangerous areas on the day, one of which saw him unnecessarily booked and led directly to the Cyprus goal.

The 23-year-old, still just returning to his best after a hamstring problem, accepts he must do far better if he wants to stick at this level. It isn’t the worst trait to be self-critical even in victory. “I certainly wasn’t back to my best on Saturday night,” said McKenna. “There was that chance early doors and a couple of slack free kicks and these are things that you have to eradicate from your game. Especially at this level you get punished. Hopefully I can just keep learning at this level. I gave away far too many fouls on Saturday night and it is something I can do a lot better with. If we can be cuter with that then we might get a few more free kicks as well.

“We knew in the first half that we were giving away too many free kicks and it was mentioned again at half time,” he added. “So for them to get an early goal that way was disappointing after all we talked about keeping a clean sheet. But we showed good character to bounce back from that and score a pretty decent goal. It was a 2-1 win and it is all about building that confidence.”

Injuries and call-offs have meant Clarke has used five different central defensive partnerships in his seven matches in charge and he could introduce Ryan Porteous into the mix tonight. While the uncertainty is hardly ideal, McKenna still feels there is a chance to make himself one of the first names on the team sheet ahead of the play-offs. Cyprus wasn’t the prettiest of performances but a win is a win. “Obviously a manager would rather have a settled partnership but that is just the way it is,” said McKenna. We’ve not really had that bit of consistency the team would hope to have, but sometimes it can’t be helped. That is two wins on the bounce which hopefully brings confidence.”