SWITCHING from a back three to a back four in 2018 enabled Scotland to recover from a mauling by Israel away from home, record impressive back-to-back victories, top their Nations League group and secure a place in the Euro 2020 play-offs.

Could doing the same thing now help the national team to make an impact in the Euro 2020 finals this summer and resurrect their Qatar 2022 qualifying campaign later this year?

The difference between the first and second-half performances in the Group F match in the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening would suggest that it very well could.

Steve Clarke’s side lined up in their usual 3-5-1-1 formation at kick-off at the weekend – but their opponents dominated the opening 45 minutes, cut them open repeatedly and carved out a raft of gilt-edged scoring chances.

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The visitors were trailing 1-0 at half-time after Dor Peretz beat David Marshall with a stunning long range strike. But they could very easily have been further behind.

Clarke took decisive action during the break. He hooked centre half Jack Hendry, put on playmaker Ryan Christie and changed his system to a 4-2-3-1. His team was transformed as a result. Ryan Fraser levelled following a well-worked attacking move and Che Adams also went close to netting.

Scotland had certainly created several opportunities before that; Scott McTominay headed just wide at an Andy Robertson corner and Adams was unlucky not to get on the end of a brilliant through ball from Fraser.

However, they had been in some disarray at the back and only two saves from Marshall, who was equal to attempts by first Manor Solomon and then Shon Weissmann, prevented their opponents from quickly wrapping up all three points.

They looked far more comfortable, if not infallible, in defence when play restarted. 

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There will be wholesale alterations to the Scotland team that plays the Faroe Islands tomorrow evening; Craig Gordon should come in in goals, Andrew Considine, Declan Gallagher, Scott McKenna, Greg Taylor and Liam Palmer could feature at the back, Kenny McLean may get a run out in midfield and Oli McBurnie and Kevin Nisbet will be hoping to get the nod up front.

Still, it would be beneficial and informative for Clarke to persevere with the 4-2-3-1 set-up against the section’s minnows all the same.

The former Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle United assistant acknowledged the need for Scotland to be adaptable when the draw for the World Cup qualifiers was made back in December and hinted he had, despite the momentous Euro 2020 play-off final win over Serbia in Belgrade the previous month, concerns about the 3-5-1-1.

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“We have got a system that has worked for us in some of the matches,” he said. “But in the last two games we played (against Slovakia and Israel away in the Nations League in November) we lost 1-0. So maybe there is a flaw in the system as well that we need to look at and maybe tweak for certain games. I still think we are a work in progress.

“It is for me to assess the opponents, look at them, look at their strengths and weaknesses and decide whether we should play the same system or whether we should play a different system. It will all be about getting the result on the day and I want to be in a position where I can play different systems if I have to.”

Playing with a three man defence has allowed Clarke, and his predecessor Alex McLeish before him, to shoehorn both Robertson and Kieran Tierney into the same starting line-up. Leaving the Liverpool or Arsenal left back out is inconceivable.

Yet, the second-half display on Sunday night has shown that Tierney, who was arguably his country’s outstanding performer in both the 2-2 draw with Austria last Thursday and the 1-1 draw with Israel, is more than capable of playing as centre half in a four with Robertson outside him.

Brendan Rodgers predicted his protégé could flourish in that position when he was Celtic manager after playing him there in a pre-season friendly against Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic way back in 2017. He was adamant there would be advantages going forward. 

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“Could KT play at centre half in international football?” he said. “Yes, for sure, for sure. What helps him is that he can score goals from that area as well. When he steps in he can step in centrally and get his shot off. Sometimes when he is wide he is going down the line in the system. 

“In international football and European football you don’t need to be 6ft 3in to play centre-half. As long as you have got a couple of guys that are dominant in the air, he can step in and play.”

Scotland’s opening two results in Group F have not gone down well with many members of the Tartan Army. But only time will tell if they are two points gained or four points dropped. There are another eight matches to be played and 24 points up for grabs. Anything can happen.

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Still, one thing is for sure; the national team must perform far, far better in their remaining encounters with Denmark, Austria, Israel, Moldova and the Faroe Islands if they are to finish in the top two and progress to Qatar 2022.

McLeish oversaw a turnaround in fortunes after a dire 2-1 loss to Israel in Haifa back in 2018 by abandoning his favoured 3-5-2 formation. His men mauled Albania 4-0 in Shkoder using a 4-1-4-1 and then edged out Israel 3-2 in Glasgow with a 4-3-3. So it can be done.

If Scotland are to reach the World Cup for the first time since France ’98 and also do well against Croatia, the Czech Republic and England at Euro 2020 then it should be done. 

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