Callum Davidson recalls Scotland debut that nearly went wrong

Callum Davidson
Callum Davidson
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It could, admitted Callum Davidson, have gone down as the shortest international career on record.

He’d barely made it onto the pitch for his Scotland debut before his heart was in his mouth having, in his own words “halved” one of his Lithuanian opponents.

28/08/17 
 SCOTLAND TRAINING 
 MAR HALL - BISHOPTON 
 Scotland coach Callum Davidson

28/08/17 SCOTLAND TRAINING MAR HALL - BISHOPTON Scotland coach Callum Davidson

A red card seemed inevitable until, he believes, team-mate Ally McCoist managed to sweet talk Romanian referee Constantin Dan Zotla into settling for a booking.

As a member of Gordon Strachan’s backroom staff preparing the squad for Friday night’s must-win World Cup match against Lithuania, Davidson’s memories of that day in Vilnius almost 20 years have come flooding back.

He recalled: “I’d just come on for Colin Calderwood, it was my first time in the squad so to get on was special. But it could have been a very short international career. I halved one of them within about 30 seconds and got a yellow card.

“I think it was only Ally getting in the ref’s ear telling him it was my first match that saved me. I thought I might be going off but, to be honest, it wasn’t too bad, just over-exuberance.”

That game was the first time Scotland had faced Lithuania but in the intervening years the Baltic nation have become familiar foes, the 0-0 draw in that inaugural clash on September 5, 1998 having set the tone for subsequent encounters.

Davidson said: “We seem to get Lithuania virtually ever time round now, we’ve played them quite a few times. It’s going to be tough as it always seems to be close between us.”

Davidson’s debut came only months after Scotland had taken part in the 1998 World Cup finals in France, taking on Brazil, Norway and Morocco before heading home and, as he donned a dark blue shirt for the first time, the left back admitted he couldn’t help but feel there were plenty more such occasions to come.

As we now know, of course, those were the last major championships Scotland have graced, the chances of ending that barren run by making next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia slim, with Davidson agreeing Friday night’s game has taken on the mantle of a “must-win”.

He does, however, hope the morale-lifting performance last time out against England, a last-ditch Harry Kane goal leaving Scotland to settle for a point after two stunning Leigh Griffiths’ free-kicks in the dying minutes at Hampden appeared to have snatched victory, will spur on Strachan’s players.

The St Johnstone No.2 said: “It was amazing on the back of the England game the number of people who have come to speak to me, the number of youngsters, talking about Leigh’s free-kicks and how much they enjoyed the occasion.

“With two minutes to go I’d have settled for a point but I’ve never experienced such a surge of euphoria when that second goal went in. There was the slight disappointment in the end, but it was a good result.”

Davidson agreed the two points Kane’s goal snatched from the Scots could have put an entirely different complexion on qualifying Group F.

But he argued: “That’s football. I think that’s why we all watch it because you never quite know what is going to happen. If you knew what was going to happen, who was going to win, it would get pretty boring.

“That’s why we love playing football, there are so many different opinions, so many different styles of play, so many factors that can affect games. You could say it was two points lost – or a point gained. I think to take a point off the English who are a top team, especially in qualification, isn’t a bad result.

“Now we are looking for a victory on Friday night to give us the best chance to qualify. We are hoping to carry on the momentum from the last game where the performance of the players was fantastic. It was my first squad, but I was delighted to be involved, to see how much they wanted to win and it’s now different this week.”

One of those factors which might influence the outcome of a game, as Davidson contended, will be the fact this game will take place on a plastic pitch – the same one on which St Johnstone saw their Europa League campaign brought to an abrupt halt by FC Trakai early last month.

Likening the artificial surface in the LFF Stadionas to that at Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park, he said: “A plastic pitch is a plastic pitch. I wouldn’t say this one is the best I have seen, but it’s not one of the worst. I genuinely don’t think players like playing on them but I’d imagine if you ask the Lithuanian boys they’d probably say they’d rather play on grass but their season in winter doesn’t allow it because it gets so cold.”

Strachan’s squad have trained on an artificial surface in preparation for the match, Davidson saying: “The game changes depending on whether it is watered or not. If it is dry the ball sticks, if it is wet it moves quickly. We’ve been working on things like that.”