Scotland resume their World cup qualifying campaign this weekend when Israel visit Hampden for what seems like the millionth time in the last few years – and assistant manager John Carver has been blown away after watching Aston Villa coach Austin MacPhee work with the players on set-pieces ahead of the crunch clash.
The former Hearts and Northern Ireland coach was added to Clarke’s backroom staff in August and Carver admits his recruitment was driven by stats showing the importance of converting set-pieces into chances and goals.
With Scotland’s desperately needing a win over the Israelis on Saturday to keep any hopes of reaching the World Cup alive, Clarke, Carver, McPhee and the rest of the Scotland coaching staff are leaving no stone unturned as they look to end the 24-year wait to appear at a World Cup.
“We are looking at everything,” Carver said.
“We haven’t been great at set-plays, but Austin has come in as a specialist on set plays. We are hoping he might give us the edge.
“He has gone to Aston Villa, got off to a really good start and I think they have scored a couple of goals from set-plays. So we are hoping he is going to add something different. That’s why Steve brought him in.
“So that might give us an edge on Saturday.
“I’m not big on stats but I’m almost certain when you’re looking at World Cup Finals and European Championships, the games that are so tight are usually decided by a set-play. I think the stats are quite high. So that’s why Steve looked at the situation and realised that we need a specialist to come in.
“Austin did a little bit with the players today which was very, very impressive, I have to say.
“We’re hoping that’s going to give us the edge. It might be in the Israel game, it might be in the Faroe Islands game — or in the two after that — we don’t know.
“We’re always looking to freshen things up, always looking for an edge. We’re always looking to see how we can dominate and beat the opposition.”
MacPhee is no stranger to international scene
After spending seven years as part of Michael O’Neill’s backroom staff with Northern Ireland, MacPhee is no stranger to international football.
His time with NI will have the Aston Villa coach well-accustomed to the short windows that the national team get to work with players and try get their ideas across before putting it into action in matches.
With Scotland and Israel having barely been separable in recent years, a free-kick or corner could well be what ends up deciding the game and finally end the wait to return to the World Cup for the Tartan Army.
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