STEVE Clarke insisted last night that he already sees improvement in his Scotland players in the short time he has been working with them – and forecasts further growth in the group by the time the pivotal home Euro 2020 double header against Russia and Belgium again in September.

The former Kilmarnock manager revealed that Romelu Lukaku, who he worked with during a prolific spell in the player’s development at West Brom, had apologised to him for the two goals which combined with a late Kevin de Bruyne strike to inflict his first defeat as Scotland manager, but the 55-year-old from Saltcoats was unapologetic about a defensive tactical approach which he felt had allowed his team to be “competitive” against the best international team on the planet.

Clarke’s opinion was that the final scoreline was harsh on his team’s efforts. “It was a difficult game for us but the commitment and attitude and the tactical discipline were excellent,” said Clarke. “In my opinion I don’t think we deserved to lose a third goal at the end.I could say that the second goal was offside which might have changed something and obviously conceding the first goal right on half time was a big blow for us. I thought we did well to recover from that.

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“At half time, I told them to believe in the structure we had and the way of playing that we had," he added. "I told them not to panic if it went to 2-0. I said if we are losing 2-0 and a get a chance to score and we make it 2-1 it could be a nervy finish for Belgium. Unfortunately, we fluffed our lines a little bit when we had a big chance to make it 2-1.The first one fell to to big Scott [McKenna] then the second chance fell to James [Forrest] and he couldn’t quite get it out of the feet.

“Overall my impression is that what I saw over the ten days was a really good group of players are are really committed to their country. They want to get better, they want to improve. We were competitive in that game tonight against the best team in the world, ranked number one. So there were a lot of positives but obviously we are professional and we don’t like to lose.

“I think we have shown in this 10 day camp that there have been improvements already. There are room for more improvements. We defend well but we have to be better when we have the ball. There are things to work on but overall the feeling is that we have grown a little bit as a squad of players already and the next camp we should grow again because it is two vital home qualifiers for us against the two favourites to go out of the group so we have to be ready for that.”

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Losing inspirational captain Andy Robertson to a hamstring injury before kick-off, Clarke said that the assured display which Greg Taylor gave him against the wizardry of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne hadn’t shocked him at all. “He didn’t surprise me,” said Clarke. “I have worked with Greg for 18 months and I thought he was ready. I thought he was excellent form start to finish. It was a big ask for him but I know his temperament, I know his character. He deserved the start that he got.

“I just had a big cuddle with Lukaku in the tunnel,” added Clarke. “He apologised for scoring. Listen, Romelu is a fantastic character and I enjoyed working with him. He was a young boy when he worked with me and he has grown since then."

After a result which will disappoint his Lanarkshire in-laws, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez insisted it would be a different game if the teams had been locked at 0-0 at half time. “I was pleased we scored before half time,” he said. “I think it would be very different if that goal didn't arrive in the first half. I enjoyed the attitude of the players, in the 85th minute we had seven players running across the pitch to defend the counter attack. If you accept it, it ends up in the back of the net.”