Tony Ralston’s remarkable season has taken yet another twist.
The Celtic full-back has been called up by Scotland for tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifier against Denmark.
Prior to Ange Postecoglou’s arrival in the summer, the 22-year-old looked to be on his way out of Celtic Park, with the club having farmed him out on loans to Dundee United and St Johnstone.
Since then, though, he has turned things around in stunning style.
His passion, commitment and skill have made him one of the key men in the new manager’s side, and an early contender for the national Player of the Year awards.
Indeed, such have been his displays for the Hoops, his continued omission from the Scotland squad had become a talking point – with manager, Steve Clarke, yesterday apologising for the delay when announcing the news.
“We are calling up Tony Ralston to cover for Nathan Patterson’s suspension against Denmark,” he said.
“I did try to call him up to one of the previous squads, but unfortunately Covid put paid to that.
“Anyway, it is nice to have him here in the squad now because, any time I have seen him this year, he has been impressive.
“He was given a chance by a manager who obviously trusts him a lot, and who has stuck by him.
“Credit to the player. He has taken his chance. He has probably been sitting there waiting on that chance for a long time.”
Whether Ralston will have to show patience at Hampden Park tomorrow night, in terms of getting on the pitch, is unclear.
While Scotland have already clinched their place in the World Cup play-offs, a win or a draw against Denmark is sought to secure a home game in the semi-final next March, suggesting that Clarke is more likely to put out his strongest possible side.
“I think Nathan Patterson and Stephen O’Donnell have done well for us in the right wing-back position,” said the manager when quizzed on Ralston’s chances.
“Celtic play slightly differently, but Tony has attributes that I think could make him a good right wing-back too.”
As the Scotland boss acknowledges, the situation is complicated by the fact he has eight players who, if they get booked against Denmark, will miss the Play-off Semi-final through suspension.
Skipper Andy Robertson, Billy Gilmour, John McGinn, Jack Hendry, Che Adams, Kevin Nisbet, Stephen O’Donnell and Scott McTominay (who is a doubt with a throat virus) are the players concerned.
“There are too many players involved to leave out, so my view is that we need something from the Denmark game to secure the seeding,” said Clarke, hinting there will be as few changes as possible from the side that beat Moldova on Friday night.
“I think getting the seeding is important, and you have to trust that we don’t get an over-officious referee who wants to book everybody for every single little indiscretion.
“Common sense from the officials, and we should be fine.
“As for the lads who have picked up one yellow card over the course of a nine-game campaign, hopefully they can get through without picking up anything else.
“But you then go into the play-off, and if they pick up a booking in the Semi, they’d miss the Final, which is extra unfair.”
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 12, 2021
It is not the Scotland manager’s only gripe.
“Probably the most unfair part of it from our point of view is that we will have played 10 games, and some other teams have only played eight across qualifying,” he said.
“So some teams accumulate over only eight games and we accumulate over 10. The yellow cards still count the same, and I’m not sure how that is fair.
“But we are not the only country in this situation. Almost every country has numerous yellow cards hanging over them.”
While respecting the Danes, there is no hiding the manager’s excitement about the chance to build more momentum ahead of the World Cup play-off.
“The overriding factor going into the game is that we want to finish this group well,” he said.
“We are on a terrific run. Five wins on the bounce is very difficult to do at any level of football, and we have managed to do it when the pressure was on to secure second place.
“Now we want to go the last step to get the point, or three points, that gets us the seeded place.
“Six games undefeated going into the March Play-off would be a good place to be. So I am expecting a great contest.”
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