Following his impressive tactical victory over the current champions with Kilmarnock, Steve Clarke is the subject of Ewan Paton’s praise, as he describes why the former Premier League gaffer’s stock is on the rise above the border.
He is Scottish footballs equivalent of Jose Mourinho. The comparison to The Special One may seem rather daft, but hear me out. Steve Clarke’s tactical masterclass to engineer Kilmarnock’s 1-0 victory over champions Celtic at the weekend proves it.
Killie upset the odds to overcome Brendan Rodgers’ side – which is only their second domestic defeat in 18 months.
Clarke organised the side in his preferred narrow 4-3-3 formation, with experienced defender Gordon Greer coming back in, Kris Boyd leading the line, with Eamonn Brophy and Jordan Jones playing off the number nine.
Celtic went with a 4-3-2-1, but were forced to change to three at the back with both Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer limping off with injuries. £1 million defender Jack Hendry and on-loan Chelsea starlet Charly Musonda started too.
From start to finish the Ayrshire side were solid right through the spine of the team, but countered ferociously with Jones’ blistering pace.
They defended as a unit, starting with Boyd and Brophy – limiting the invincibles to a pathetic one shot on target during the full 90 minutes.
For Clarke to tactically outclass his former compatriot Rodgers, who has a 72% win rate with the champions, is no mean feat.
Rodgers has completely dominated Scottish football since making the move north, so with this result Clarke has shown he has the nous to beat the best.
This in essence got me thinking – I wonder where we’ve seen these tactics before?
That’s right – Clarke worked under Mourinho during the Portuguese’s first stint at Chelsea.
Jose has a reputation for setting his teams up to defend from the front in the big games while threatening simultaneously, and it was clear Killie deployed a similar tactic.
Celtic had 61% possession in the end, but in the end The Hoops just didn’t turn up.
However, with only one shot on target, surely Kilmarnock’s solidity and fierce counter-attacking approach was the main factor for this result?
Clarke trusted his players, to a man, to carry out the job, with all of them passing with flying colours.
James Forrest was kept quiet, Dembele looked a shadow of his former self, last season’s Player of the Year Scott Sinclair was nowhere to be seen, and most important of all, Scott Brown wasn’t allowed to pull the strings.
That was because Youssouf Mulumbu was on hand to boss the entire game for Killie. The 31 year-old walked all over the top of Brown, Ntcham and Kouassi in the midfield, capping his stellar performance off with the winning goal.
The former West Brom star dictated the pace of the game, did the simple things well and his awareness at this level is a class above – which has been blatant since his debut in December.
He broke into the gaps in Celtic’s midfield and brought others, such as Jones and McKenzie, into play.
The acquisition of Mulumbu, as well as Aston Villa midfielder Aaron Tshibola on loan — who cost the West-Midlands side £5 million 18 months ago —are early signs of where Clarke is taking the club.
Clarke has now beaten both Old Firm teams at Rugby Park since he took over in mid-October – which also stretches Killie’s home win streak to five games.
It’s been widely documented how quick he’s transformed the side, and this just adds to the praise already received.
His record now reads; seven wins, five draws and three defeats.
Clarke came back to Scotland with a much higher pedigree than most managers in the division – this latest scalp is further evidence that he is Premier League quality.
He’s the man – no doubt about it.
The flavour of the month some might say (especially in December when he won manager of the month).
Fellow managers, pundits and fans are running out of ways to compliment him.
It is therefore no surprise to see him being tipped for the vacant Scotland job.
I have no doubts he has the attributes and experience to take our country out of the dark ages and into a new era.
But the Saltcoats man came up here for one main reason – to get back on the radar of the English elite.
He has a return ticket sitting in his wallet… but let’s hope for Scottish football’s sake he’s around for a while yet.
Follow Ewan on Twitter at @ewan_paton22