EVER since he took the Scotland job, the one question that has perhaps been raised to Steve Clarke more than any other is how he accommodates his star men – captain Andy Robertson and Keiran Tierney – in the same team. But by trying to solve that problem, he looked to have inadvertently created another during the nation’s last two matches.

Namely, what to do with Scott McTominay? The Manchester United midfielder was deployed on the right of a back three for the draw against Israel at Hampden Park, allowing Tierney to be accommodated on the other side, but looked uncomfortable in both that match and in the away win over a depleted Czech Republic that followed.

The accusation now being levelled at the Scotland boss is that he is trying to squeeze too many square pegs into round holes, but not only does he feel that assessment is wide of the mark, he has also defended that performances of McTominay over those two matches. While accepting he may not have taken to the role exactly like a duck to water, he insists the 23-year-old wasn’t a fish out of water either.

“If you look at the eleven there weren’t too many square pegs,” Clarke said. “The one everyone is trying to put it on is Scott McTominay, which I accept.

“But it wasn’t a square peg. It was probably an oval peg. It wasn’t so far off the mark.

“But everyone else who played in that formation has played there before.

“For a year I was being asked how do I get Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson into the same team? Well, that is one solution because Kieran plays left of a back three for Arsenal and Andy plays like a wing back for Liverpool. That’s why he pops up in the six-yard box the other night and scores the goal that he scores.

“So, it’s a formation and system that suits them both very well.

“I’m not going to give anything away in terms of the nitty gritty of tactics as Israel will want to know what we’re planning. What I would say is that the players and myself were reasonably comfortable with the system. The players quite enjoyed the system we used in the last two games.

“It gave me an opportunity to utilise players in positions that they play for their clubs. The only one would be Scott who probably hasn’t played right sided centre back in a three for Manchester United. He has played it before but that was a long time ago.

“If you analyse his performances over the two games, they were actually OK. I know he got caught under a cross which gave Israel a big chance in the first game and that’s the one everyone highlights.

“But I’ve played with a lot of top centre backs and let me tell you, all defenders at some point get caught under a cross. That’s all that happened.

“In the second game, because we gave the ball away twice in 30 seconds, it exposed the midfield, exposed the back defence and exposed Scott to a good run and through ball. If you take those two moments out his performance wasn’t too bad.

“The criticism that came his way was a little unfair. He acquitted himself well and I know he can play that position. The more he plays it, the better he’ll get.”

Which suggests that McTominay may well be deployed there again for next Thursday night’s play-off tie against the Israelis. Consistency, in fact, is a theme of the discussion with Clarke, with these tightly-bunched international fixtures giving the Scotland boss a rare opportunity to establish some continuity in his selections.

“The squad is evolving and the experience they are picking up as they go along is really important,” he said. “But when we lost heavily to Russia everyone said we had to make sure that was the low point. That we had to build from that.

“Well, we’ve managed to do that by going five games unbeaten and in four of them we were victorious. So, we are in a good place and the players understand more about international football the more often they play.

“You can see I’ve tried to keep a consistency in selection in the squad. For this one, 13 of our players will be involved in club games on the Sunday which means we don’t have a lot of preparation time.

“But because we’ve been together in a number of camps with the same players - not one of them hasn’t been with us before - so they understand the ideas and the principles of what we are trying to do and they understand what it takes to win international matches. And that’s what we have to do on Thursday night.”

Meanwhile, Clarke is hoping that Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack can take his place in the squad despite not taking part in a match since his club’s 4-0 win over Dundee United on September 12th.

“Obviously I’ve named him in the squad,” he said. “Rangers have a game on Thursday night and a game on Sunday. If Ryan is not fit to play in either of those games, then obviously he wouldn’t be fit to come with the national team.

“But he has become a key player for us and his performances in recent matches have been good. If we didn’t have him in the squad it would be a bit of a blow to us so hopefully he manages to take part in one of the Rangers games.”