From time to time, football managers say something which comes back to bite them later.

Before flying to Germany, Steve Clarke railed against ‘Negative Normans’ talking down Scotland’s hopes and ambitions at Euro 2024. By the end of a deflating Sunday night in Stuttgart, the Tartan Army began to wonder if Negative Norman was actually picking the team.

The Scots had to beat Hungary to retain any realistic chance of reaching the last 16 of Euro 2024, but produced a cautious, cagey performance devoid of attacking flair, imagination and invention.

A 1-0 defeat prompted a flight home from Munich with the fewest efforts on goal of any team in the competition. Despite 61 per cent possession in the first half, they completed an entire 45 minutes of football without an effort on goal, just as they did against Germany.

When Magyars keeper Peter Gulacsi was finally called on to make a save eight minutes into added time, it was only Scotland’s third shot on target in 270 minutes of football.

Scotland fell to a 1-0 defeat against Hungary and, as a result, were knocked out of Euro 2024

Scotland fell to a 1-0 defeat against Hungary and, as a result, were knocked out of Euro 2024

Scotland fell to a 1-0 defeat against Hungary and, as a result, were knocked out of Euro 2024

Steve Clarke railed against ¿Negative Normans¿ who talked down Scotland¿s hopes in Germany however, in the end, the doubters were proved right after the Tartan Army's dismal showing

Steve Clarke railed against ¿Negative Normans¿ who talked down Scotland¿s hopes in Germany however, in the end, the doubters were proved right after the Tartan Army's dismal showing

Steve Clarke railed against ‘Negative Normans’ who talked down Scotland’s hopes in Germany however, in the end, the doubters were proved right after the Tartan Army’s dismal showing

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Despite mounting evidence that the shape doesn’t work without Kieran Tierney, the team still lined up with five defenders and only changed formation when Clarke threw on a raft of attackers in a belated act of chaotic desperation.

A fractured cheekbone to Hungary striker Barnabas Varga explained ten minutes of added time when a Hail Mary offered more hope of a Scotland goal than a tactical approach which threw caution to the wind when it was too late to make much difference.

People can give it a rest with all that talk of history now. A 12th appearance at a major finals has come and gone without Scotland progressing beyond the group stage and, if they carry on like this, it won’t long before the national team finally claim a place in the history books for their hideous record at tournaments.

The last time a Scotland national team won a game in the World Cup or European Championships was Euro 96 when Ally McCoist scored in a 1-0 win over Switzerland. The Rangers legend is now a greying middle-aged broadcaster more bewildered than anyone by the record of six wins from 35 games at tournaments, stretching all the way back to the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland when the SFA sent the players out to play in woolly jerseys and the wrong kind of boots.

This time, the governing body threw cash and effort at making sure the preparations in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were as good as they could be. Their reward was a series of damning statistics painting Scotland as strong contenders for the worst team at the tournament.

Over three games against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary, Clarke’s team scored two goals – both coming off an opposition defender last – and conceded seven. When it came to shots on goal, they currently sit 23rd out of 24 teams, while their expected goals of 0.97 makes them the least potent team in the tournament.

Over three games against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary, Clarke¿s team scored two goals

Over three games against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary, Clarke¿s team scored two goals

Over three games against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary, Clarke’s team scored two goals

Kevin Csoboth (middle) scored the winning goal for Hungary in the 100th minute of the game

Kevin Csoboth (middle) scored the winning goal for Hungary in the 100th minute of the game

Kevin Csoboth (middle) scored the winning goal for Hungary in the 100th minute of the game

While Hungary have a pretty lamentable record at major tournaments themselves, Kevin Csoboth’s 100th minute breakaway strike brought their first win in nine games at the Euros when Clarke’s team over-committed for a corner kick.

A 0-0 draw might not have made much difference but would have kept Scotland waiting and wondering for a couple of days at least. While a team with two points has never reached the last 16 there was a mathematical possibility of progress if Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey won their final games.

Whether any team with two points *really* deserves to reach the knockout stage is a matter for debate. Yet there can be no argument Scotland got what they deserved for an effort arguably worse than the covid-ridden tournament of three years ago. While a lack of fans and atmosphere offered a get-out-of-jail card the last time, the Tartan Army travelled to Germany in huge numbers.

Had referee Fecundo Tello and his assistants done their jobs properly, of course, they might have been here a little longer. Where video assistants seem to involve themselves in everything in the Premiership, Spanish VAR Alejandro Hernandez failed to recommend an upgrade to a first half yellow card for Hungary’s Andras Schafer after serious foul play on Jack Hendry.

When substitute Stuart Armstrong went down in the area after a lumbering challenge from behind by Willi Orban at 0-0, Scotland should have had a penalty. Again, VAR showed no desire to get involved.

Clarke usually keeps his emotions tightly caged, but let rip afterwards. Asked if he had sought clarification on why there was no penalty, the Scotland boss said: ‘He’s from Argentina. Why would I ask him? He probably doesn’t speak the language. I don’t know. Why is he here? Why is there not a European referee?’

The Tartan Army have endured a disappointing run of one win in 12 games in recent times

The Tartan Army have endured a disappointing run of one win in 12 games in recent times

The Tartan Army have endured a disappointing run of one win in 12 games in recent times

A co-operation agreement between UEFA and the South American Football Confederation placed Tello in charge of Turkey’s 3-1 win over Georgia before Scotland-Hungary. An ability to speak English is a condition of admission to the FIFA list and, while Tello made some bad calls, his nationality is neither here nor there. Clarke’s post-match outburst veered dangerously close to xenophobia.

There should be no squirrels thrown on the table here. Scotland simply weren’t good enough to progress and Clarke can’t expect the credits banked for leading the team to back-to-back tournaments to last much longer if a run of one win in 12 games carries on.

Pool A of the Nations League kicks off in September and right now it feels like a shark-infested pool. Poland at home is followed by away games in Croatia and Portugal where the thought of Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo going head to head with Grant Hanley and Jack Hendry promotion could feel more like the punishment from hell.

Injuries and bad luck can’t be dismissed as if they simply didn’t matter. They did.

Clarke painted a dejected figure as he sat in the Scotland dugout after the result in Stuttgart

Clarke painted a dejected figure as he sat in the Scotland dugout after the result in Stuttgart

Clarke painted a dejected figure as he sat in the Scotland dugout after the result in Stuttgart

Lyndon Dykes would have been a useful plan B against a dogged Hungary team while Lewis Ferguson, Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson and Ben Doak will surely be part of the squad’s evolution heading into the Nations League and World Cup qualifiers.

Brendan Rodgers encouraged Steven Gerrard and Scott Brown to focus on their club career when the clock began to tick and, at the age of 31, Callum McGregor might be starting to think along the same lines. Hurtling towards his 33rd birthday, Hanley won’t go on forever while the decision to take James Forrest to Germany and not use him at all was an odd carry on.

There are questions to be asked over the quality of players available to Scotland’s manager. The lack of a first-team pathway between the age of 17 and 21 is crippling the development of young players almost as much as clubs signing mediocre players from overseas.

None of that offers Clarke or his players a free pass for what happened in Germany. When Scotland beat Spain 2-0 in March 2023, it felt like a manager and team heading in unison towards a better place. Call me a Negative Norman, but it doesn’t feel that way now.

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