Steve Clarke has expressed his hope that vice-captain John McGinn can kick off and become a Scottish centurion as the “bubbly” Aston Villa midfielder prepares to win his 50th cap this weekend.
The 27-year-old is set to lead the side again in the absence of injured Andy Robertson in Saturday’s Nations League game at home to the Republic of Ireland.
Manager Clarke is a big fan of the former St Mirren and Hibernian player, who has scored 14 goals for Scotland since his debut against Denmark in March 2016.
“You just have to look at his contributions, his goalscoring record, his assists,” Clarke said. “He can play in different positions in midfield and he brings his own bubbly and bright personality to the group.
“He’s a key member of the team on and off the pitch. I think he likes it when I push him a bit more forward and he gets the chance to get those goals and make those assists. It works well for us.
“I’m indebted to John for most of the good wins we’ve had because he got the goals and the assists. Hopefully he can keep going and reach 100 and get a few more goals and assists along the way.
Clarke believes McGinn’s growth as an international player epitomizes Scotland’s improvement since taking office in 2019.
“John was in a lot of Scottish teams and he tells me about the time he was asked to lead the line in one of the teams because he was surplus to requirements at the time,” the manager said.
“You have to understand that there is a process and John accepted it and waited for his chance. That’s what you want.
“When I first came in, John’s age group of players didn’t have as many caps and I said over time, ‘you’re going to take the caps and get more experienced and j ‘hope we will improve as a group’ and I think we have improved a lot as a group.
The Scots won 3-0 against Ukraine in midweek less than four months after losing 3-1 to the same opponents in a World Cup play-off. Clarke will hope to see a similar turnaround this weekend against a Republic side who beat Scotland 3-0 in Dublin in June.
“We know only too well from our experiences over the summer how tough the game is going to be and we have to be ready for whatever Ireland throws at us,” said Clarke, whose team tops Nations League Group B1 ahead of the bottom two. matches.
“We have to fight their strengths and make sure we play to our maximum and show our qualities. We showed better performances against Ukraine in the middle of the week compared to what we did in the summer and the idea is to replicate that again.”
Clarke has added St Mirren centre-back Declan Gallagher and Verona left-back Josh Doig to his squad following the injury withdrawals of Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull.
The boss plans to keep changes to a minimum for this weekend’s game after a ‘very good showing’ midweek, although he is open to the possibility of making ‘one or two’ changes.