JOHN Collins agrees with Steve Clarke’s assessment that the Scotland players perhaps over-exerted themselves when facing England at Wembley – leaving them vulnerable for the do-or-die clash with Croatia at Hampden on Tuesday evening.

The Tartan Army watched their team bow out after being outclassed by Zlatko Dalic’s men in what proved to be their final Euros fixture as the Luka Modric-inspired visitors secured a relatively straightforward 3-1 victory.

The goalless draw at Wembley a few days previous showed the best of Clarke’s team as they frustrated the Auld Enemy at one end and fashioned the odd decent chance at the other, but the Scots were left chasing shadows against Croatia in a game that they simply had to win to reach the knockout stages for the first time.

At full-time, Clarke admitted that his players “left everything on the pitch at Wembley against England and couldn’t quite get it tonight” – something that Collins feels played into Croatia’s hands.

“It was always a worry that we put so much energy into the Wembley game, then you’ve got another one in four days when the players haven’t had much rest,” he reflected.

“Especially with the type of opponent we were up against – Croatia had all of the ball and made us chase it. It’s hard work, especially for the front five. But the positives are that we made it to the tournament and we were competitive, and we have to learn from it.

“We have to reflect on what we did well and what we can do better across every department. It’s the same for every football team. That’s the challenge going forward: to continue the progress. We want to get to tournaments and that will have whetted the appetite of every supporter in the country.

“I’m sure the players have loved every minute of it. Representing your country at a finals is the pinnacle of your career and I think there’s a real connection between the fans and the players. It was nice to see the fans singing after the game even though we’d had a tough defeat and that they showed their appreciation.”

As Collins alludes to, there remains a sense of a feel-good factor around the national team despite their elimination from the European Championships. Simply reaching a tournament for the first time in 23 years helped heave an enormous monkey off our nation’s back, even if Callum McGregor’s equaliser on the cusp of half-time against Croatia was little more than yet another false dawn.

However, Collins stresses that it’s moments like these, little fleeting instances where every fan in the country can’t help but to dare to dream once again, that will live long in the memory, particularly for McGregor himself. And as the man who restored parity against a star-studded Brazil side in the opening game of the 1998 World Cup – a match Craig Brown’s men went on to lose 2-1 – Collins is something of an authority on the subject.

“That moment in time [McGregor’s equaliser] was fabulous for me,” he recalled. “I was up in the gantry as I was working for ITV and I went crazy like every one of the supporters in the stadium and every Scottish person sitting in front of their telly.

“Callum made the whole nation jump off their seats so that’s nice for the boy. But ultimately, like me against Brazil, we lost the game. We tried our best!”

There are lessons to be learned from Scotland’s first tournament and Collins believes it won’t be long until Clarke and his coaching staff are poring over the finer details, dissecting each of the three fixtures to find out what went right – and perhaps, more pertinently, where improvements could be made.

Going into the tournament, it was expected that Scott McTominay would feature in midfield; Clarke said as much himself. The Manchester United player did start there against the Czechs before playing the remaining two games at centre-half, and Collins believes that this change in role must be persevered with if the national team are to play out from the back and truly kick on.

He explained: “I think what Scott brings to the team, as a midfielder playing further back, is composure. He’s comfortable on the ball and he’s used to playing in midfield where there’s players all around you.

“Once you go back, it’s much easier to keep possession of the ball. That’s probably why Steve picked him to play there and obviously he’s about 6’3”, so he’s got the physicality and the height to play centre-back.”

John Collins was speaking to Herald and Times Sport in association with William Hill.