Scotland: 'No obvious evidence Steve Clarke appointment is bearing fruit'
Steve Clarke was nothing less than brutally honest in his assessment of Thursday's trouncing in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. No bluster, no excuses, no spin on a result - actually a series of results - that leaves Scotland firmly ensconced in the footballing doldrums.
The national head coach is a man who calls a spade a shovel and won't shy away from the home truths that will need to be delivered over the next day or two as part of a protracted post-mortem.
Five games into his tenure and without doubt he would have expected to have had a greater impact on the team's performances. He got the job, with the almost unanimous support of the footballing nation, on the back of doing with Kilmarnock what a Scotland squad has required for decades now - making them more than the sum of their parts.
- Five games, 14 goals, one big problem
- Clarke blames 'fragile confidence'
- Russia end Scots' automatic qualification hopes
It was exactly this ability that attracted the Scottish FA to Northern Ireland's Michael O'Neill before the very public embarrassment of his "thanks, but no thanks" response to their courting of him. But, following Alex McLeish's ill-fated second spell in charge of the national team, Clarke's appointment was greeted with widespread approval by fans, pundits, journalists and players.
Five games later, there is no obvious evidence the decision is bearing fruit. Losing to Russia and Belgium twice is neither a surprise nor a disgrace, but the manner of those defeats has been wholly unimpressive.
Were McLeish still in charge, he would have been vilified for the slipshod defending that has led to the shipping of 14 goals. Clarke has been afforded some latitude in that regard. He is still finding his feet in the job, but that period of goodwill is coming to an end.
Questioned as to how a team failing so spectacularly to keep clean sheets can somehow hope to successfully compete in a Euro 2020 play-off in five months' time, he says simply "hard work". The problem is that time with his squad is rapidly dwindling ahead of the play-off in March.
November double-header 'is truer test'
Sunday's meeting with the whipping boys of San Marino must be the start of a run of victories to repair that "fragile confidence" Clarke spoke of in Moscow. The opportunity to dominate a match, impose your authority on a game, score a few goals and surely keep a clean sheet is one they have to grasp.
A truer test of how well prepared or otherwise Scotland are for the play-off semi-final will come in November away to Cyprus and then at home to Kazakhstan.
The Cypriots, who came within a whisker of taking a point away from Hampden in Clarke's second game, are four points better off than Scotland with three games remaining in the group. His side have to claw that back and only a win in Nicosia will suffice.
At the moment, only the most optimistic Scotland supporter would put any faith in that happening. If it doesn't, that's when the serious questions will have to be asked of the Scotland head coach.