IF you were of dour disposition, there was plenty to find fault with in the recent run of Scotland matches. Just one goal scored in three full games plus 30 minutes of extra-time. Two defeats and a draw to show for it. A golden chance of promotion to Nations League Group A blown. Oli McBurnie starting to envy Chris Iwelumo’s Scotland career.

Thankfully, Scotland isn’t packed to the rafters with these Reverend I.M. Jolly types, so I’m sure that Steve Clarke’s plea to focus on the positives after Wednesday night’s defeat to Israel won’t fall on deaf ears.

But let’s just imagine for a moment that some Scots with a less than sunny outlook exist out there, and that they might not be boogying along with the rest of us after sitting through the last couple of Scotland games.

It is difficult to deduce much from the defeat to Slovakia on Sunday, apart from using the game to gauge the strength in depth that Clarke may now have at his disposal, given that he made eight changes for the match.

There are rumours circulating – very much on the QT - that a top secret, very hush-hush, low-key celebration was held at the team hotel following the win on penalties over Serbia that clinched qualification to Euro 2020, so that might explain why there wasn’t quite the zip about Scotland’s play in Trnava that there had been in the excellent performance in Belgrade.

As we sit here on the other side of the international break though, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we would all have settled for going into it. The place at Euro 2020 and an end to over two decades without an appearance at a major tournament was the priority by the length of a drunken conga line.

And it also shouldn’t be forgotten that it was utterly deserved, too. Sure, Scotland made hard work of it in the end, but it was almost worth the anguish of the last-minute equaliser and extra-time just to have that glorious moment when David Marshall saved Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty. And the even more glorious moment of his delayed celebration, as he just made triple sure that VAR wasn’t about to inflict some new way of ripping away our hopes and dreams as they dangled tantalisingly before us.

The two defeats that followed that moment don’t change the fact that this team have ensured that our hopes and dreams are still very much alive, and will be carried on the shoulders of the players all the way into what promises to be a glorious summer. In fact, they could very well be instructive for Clarke as he looks to take us a step further than we’ve ever gone before by qualifying from a group that England, Croatia and the Czech Republic.

Scotland certainly didn’t play badly against either Slovakia or Israel, although I’m using the fairly low yardstick of previous abject performances away from home as a barometer. Even with all the changes to personnel though, the plan seemed easy to discern and a clear team identity appeared to be forming.

There was solid defending for the most part, with Declan Gallagher blossoming at the heart of the defence. There were signs of an effective high press developing through the high-energy play of Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes in particular, as well as an increasingly impressive midfield partnership between Callum McGregor and Ryan Jack. The only bugbear was that the fine play between both boxes wasn’t complemented by a ruthless streak at the sharp end of the pitch.

This may appear to be the hardest of Scotland’s deficiencies to remedy, but there are even reasons for optimism in this regard.

Dykes brings so much to the side in Clarke’s preferred system that he is a nailed-on and deserved starter every day of the week. There is Christie in behind, of course, who was Scotland’s liveliest creative force over the last few games and scorer of our only goal.

Leigh Griffiths is still lacking sharpness, as evidenced by his late sclaff against Israel, but he will hopefully continue to improve with Celtic’s domestic agenda and the Euros ahead to act as motivation.

By the law of averages, McBurnie must be due a goal too, and I just have a feeling that when he gets one for Scotland, a few may follow. Lawrence Shankland is in reserve, and behind the frontmen we also have the likes of Ryan Fraser and James Forrest to come back into the fold.

So, while it would be foolhardy to think that this Scotland team have come out of these matches entirely smelling of roses, the two defeats after the glory of the Serbia game doesn’t mean we’re back in the dungheap either.

Rather, we have a team that is blossoming quite nicely, and one that has taken us to a major tournament in the process. It’s been a long time since we could say something like that, so Clarke is quite right in saying that we should enjoy it.

It’s a chance that the most dour of Scots, or even big Iwelumo himself, couldn’t miss.