STEVE Clarke is optimistic Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor will be available to play for Scotland in their crucial Qatar 2022 qualifiers against Israel and Faroe Islands even though the Southampton and Celtic midfielders have both been sidelined by injury.

The national team manager, whose team are second in Group F with four games to play and on course to clinch a play-off place, yesterday named the duo in his 24 man squad for the next month’s double header.

Armstrong has not taken part in a competitive match since the Euro 2020 group game against Croatia at Hampden in June while McGregor has been out of action since the cinch Premiership win on September 11.

But Clarke said: “Callum and Stuart are both training again,” he said. “Hopefully between now and us meeting up they will get game time with their clubs. That’s what I’m hoping for. We just have to wait and see how it develops. 

“I just let the medical staff deal with it. There might come a time when I need to speak to them directly to find out what the lie of the land is. But like I said, I’m hopeful both will get minutes on the pitch before we meet up and then I don’t need to have that conversation. 

“Obviously I have eight midfield players in there anyway. I’ve got plenty of cover in that area, but I think both will be okay. Getting Scott back is good. We missed him the last time, but managed to get two really good results without him. He will come back into the thinking. Competition for places is key in all areas of the team.”

Clarke certainly has that at right wing back. Nathan Patterson of Rangers was outstanding in the 1-0 win over Moldova at Hampden earlier this month. Then Stephen O’Donnell of Motherwell performed brilliantly against Austria in Vienna. Their manager is pleased to have a selection headache in what has long been considered a problem position.

“That’s what you want, two boys playing at the top of their form for their country,” he said. “If I can I use them both, great. If I only have to use one and that one does well, great. 

“I’m hoping Nathan will pick up a little bit of game-time before we meet up. Rangers have two games so hopefully Nathan will get minutes on the pitch. 

“Stephen is back playing regularly at Motherwell so for a position that was always sort of looked on as a weakness, it’s actually become a reasonably strong position for us. That’s great and a credit to both boys.”