Christian Eriksen and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg had probably never have heard of John McGinn before they came face-to-face with the Hibs youngster.
Christian Eriksen and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg had probably never have heard of John McGinn before they came face to face with the Hibs youngster.
And why should they have, Eriksen playing a key role in Tottenham Hotspur’s Premiership title chase and Hojbjerg on loan to Schalke 04 from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich while McGinn has been plying his trade in the Scottish Championship.
But by the time Gordon Strachan’s side had fought out a hard-earned victory over Denmark at Hampden the pair would have been well aware of the 21-year-old.
Unfazed by making the step from the second tier of football in this country to the international stage, McGinn fully justified his inclusion by Scotland boss Gordon Strachan with a performance which earned him the accolade of man of the match.
Totally inhibited by the reputations of those he was facing, McGinn rose to the occasion, leaving both Eriksen and Hojbjerg sitting on the seats of their pants although one challenge on the latter did bring the disapproval of Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen in the shape of a yellow card.
If there had been any doubt about pitching McGinn and Celtic kid Kieran Tierney into such company goalkeeper Craig Gordon revealed he had no such misgivings.
Obviously as a team-mate of Tierney Gordon was fully aware of the 18-year-old’s potential, but he found McGinn’s performance equally as impressive.
The former Hearts No.1 said: “It was a big jump for John but he handled it really well.
“The game was probably a lot quicker than he is used to, but he runs about, puts tackles in and puts people under pressure.
“I thought with Scott [Brown] in midfield that’s exactly what we needed. John did his job very well. They are similar type players who put themselves about, closing off space and protecting the back four.
“I think they did that pretty well, Denmark had to go down the outside because they couldn’t go through the middle because of the work they put in there.”
If Eriksen, verging on 60 international caps, and Hojbjerg nearing 20, were left more than a touch rattled by the tenacity of McGinn as he was promoted from captaining Scotland Under-21s, Gordon insisted that was exactly what he had expected having taken a close look at the former St Mirren player in training.
He said: “I knew exactly what he was going to do because he’d done that in training all week, putting in the big tackles. I was sure he would do that, he went out and played his normal game and can take huge credit for his performance.”
While McGinn played the entire match, Tierney, who had picked up an injury in Celtic’s last-gasp win at Kilmarnock, was replaced by Hoops team-mate Charlie Mulgrew at half-time but, in Gordon’s estimation, had made just as important a contribution to securing back-to-back victories following the defeat of the Czech Republic a few days earlier.
In particular, Gordon highlighted Tierney’s perfectly timed covering challenge which prevented Yussuf Poulsen cancelling out the early Matt Ritchie strike which was enough to separate the sides.
He said it was vitally important to the win. “Had we lost a goal there it would have been a long night for us. But Kieran has been fantastic all season at Celtic so he didn’t surprise me.
“He is so calm, takes everything in his stride and nothing seems to faze him at all whether it’s coming into the Celtic first team at the age of 17 or 18 to playing for Scotland.
“He’s played exactly the same way he’s played right through his career and did it again. It was another step up for him but he is a really good player. He has handled everything that’s been thrown at him and that’s huge credit to him.”
While Strachan prompted much debate by naming two separate squads for the trip to Prague and the visit of Denmark, Gordon believes it was an approach which paid off with McGinn, Tierney and Oliver Burke, the Nottingham Forest 18-year-old who was a late substitute for Ritchie, all getting a taste for the high life at Hampden just as newcomers Tony Watt, Paul Caddis and Matt Phillips had a few days earlier.
The 33-year-old said: “I think is was exactly what the manager was looking for, to see if he could rely on some of the youngers players and they have come in and shown just what they are made of.
“They’ve come up against good teams with some top quality players and to do that shows they will be able to do it anywhere.
“We’ve brought in a few younger players and the manager now knows if he wants to use them they are capable at this level. I think he will have gone away pretty happy with what he has seen.”
If those players haven’t done their international prospects any harm, Gordon believes his old club also have youngsters pressing a claim, Jack Hamilton, Jordan McGhee, John Souttar and Sam Nicholson having all played in the Under-21s’ victory over Northern Ireland earlier in the day as had Hibs players Jason Cummings and Liam Henderson.
And, he believes, had it not been for the shoulder injury which required surgery, the Jambos right back Callum Paterson could well have found himself involved in the full squad over the past week or so.
He said: “I think Callum has been a bit unfortunate with injuries. He has been doing really well and was in with a chance of being in the full squad.
“Once he gets back, gets a few games under his belt and continues to play at the same level he has been at Hearts then I think he has a good chance.
“But there are others like Nicholson and [Jamie] Walker, all good players and if they continue to progress and play a good number of games at Hearts then they’re going to give themselves a good chance.”
Gordon wasn’t involved in Prague as Hull City’s Allan McGregor produced a string of top-class saves to ensure Ikechi Anya’s early breakaway strike would be enough against a country bound for this summer’s European Championship in France but, he revealed, he welcomed the break even if that night’s win had brought additional pressure to bear on Tuesday night’s team.
Gordon, who played his part in the victory with a stunning double save from Eriksen and Matt Braithwaite, said: “It was good to get a victory and a clean sheet in the first game and we wanted to keep that going. It was good to get two in a row.
“We didn’t play or keep the ball as well as we would have liked, but in terms of fighting and scrapping we did pretty well.
“Not being in the first squad, having a four or five-day break before training again helped me get rid of a few aches and pains. So to be able to contribute to a victory means it all worked out pretty well for me.”