For the first time in close to 10 months Scotland’s Under-21s took to the pitch last night, recording a well earned victory and three priceless points in Lithuania.
In what was a tempestuous encounter, it was an Allan Campbell goal which secured the win, capping off a patient and encouraging performance from Scot Gemmill’s side.
The week long training camp was a different experience for the players with the latest COVID-19 procedures in full swing, but having already become accustomed to them at their clubs, it was a seamless transition into the international set up.
Reflecting on the week and the 1-0 Euro qualifying victory, Scottish FA’s Performance Director Malky Mackay said: “I’m delighted with the result and more importantly the performance of the team on a tricky artificial surface in Lithuania.
“It’s been a long time without international youth football so to return with a victory away from home in Europe is extremely pleasing.
“I’m delighted for the players that they capped off the week with a win but also our staff who worked tirelessly in the build-up to the camp, ensuring everything went without a hitch.
“There’s been a lot of uncertainty over European youth football over the last six months and with COVID-19 ever present I would like to pay great credit to the Scottish FA staff that were with us and the job they did in keeping our players safe. They are a credit to the country.
“It was a seamless transition for the players into our bubble and despite the restrictions being in place we still managed to ensure there was a positive atmosphere in the camp, which was clearly transferred onto the pitch in Vilnius.”
Going into the game, Scotland were in need of a victory after losing out to Greece and drawing against Lithuania last year.
The team delivered and Mackay was quick to hail the manner in which it was secured.
He said: “It was a tough game, against a physical team, but credit to Scot (Gemmill), Peter (Houston) and Fraser (Stewart) who kept encouraging the players to play in the style they’ve been coached knowing opportunities would arise.
“We had five great chances but we were up against a terrific goalkeeper tonight. Fortunately we managed to score the goal we deserved.
“We’re now four points behind table toppers Czech Republic with a game in hand which is a good place to be with four games to go.
“We’ll go into the remaining games respecting Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece and San Marino but we certainly don’t fear them. It’s all to play for.”
Nathan Patterson was named in the 21s squad for the first time and the youngster was given a starting berth.
The 18-year-old has recently impressed for Rangers and was given the chance on the right wing against Lithuania with Mackay keen to expose youngsters to the sharp end of football at a young age.
He said “Giving the younger players a chance was something myself and Scot (Gemmill) spoke about, and with injuries to Kyle MaGennis, Billy Gilmour and Mikey Johnston, there were places available.
“We used the opportunity to bring in Archie Mair, Nathan Patterson, Liam McCarron , Lewis Mayo and Lewis Fiorini from our younger teams for the first time.
“We believe in fast-tracking our youngsters and giving them a taste of football at the older age groups.
“This will bode well for them and the Scottish teams going forward
“I’m delighted for the younger ones who’ve been involved this week as I know this will help their future development.
“We took Billy Gilmour to the Toulon Tournament when he was 16, and he really benefited. That decision paid off and we’re hopeful this process will eventually provide a conveyor belt of similar talent coming through the pathway.”
Five of the Scottish FA JD Performance graduates were in the squad this time around and Mackay hopes there will be more where they came from, with the programme beginning to bear fruit.
He said: “Archie Mair, Dean Campbell, Nathan Patterson, Stephen Kelly and Lewis Mayo all started with our schools when they were 12 so to now be pushing for a Scotland Under-21s jersey at 18/19 years old speaks volumes for the players themselves and also the coaches who’ve steered them on the journey.”