Sam Nicholson: Ukraine v Scotland U21s not a dead rubber

Sam Nicholson, right, with Macedonia's Mevlan Murati
Sam Nicholson, right, with Macedonia's Mevlan Murati
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Sam Nicholson insists Scotland Under-21s still have plenty incentive to perform in tonight’s match away to Ukraine even though their hopes of qualifying for next summer’s European Championships are all but over.

Friday night’s controversial defeat at home to Macedonia effectively ended the young Scots’ hopes of making it to Poland, but the Hearts winger insists patriotic pride as well as the prospect of following the likes of Barrie McKay, John McGinn, Callum Paterson and Jack Hamilton in making the step up to the full squad ensures there is no chance of a lacklustre approach in Kiev.

“It won’t be hard to rouse ourselves,” said Nicholson. “We’ve got a team full of professionals so we’ll go in with the right attitude. We want to go out and show we’re good players, as we always try to do.

“We’re all passionate and grateful to play for our country. When you get selected for the 21s, it’s brilliant because you’re representing your country at your age-group. The full team is a step-up so everyone is striving to do that. You’ll only get into the full team if you’re playing well at this level.

“Most of us have played with the likes of Paterson, McGinn and McKay in the 21s, so it’s good for us to see them stepping up because it shows that Gordon Strachan is willing to put people in. That’s why in every game we have to give our all.”

Nicholson is adamant that another failed campaign should not lead to he and his young team-mates being dismissed as no-hopers. He is adamant that there is a raft of talent in the current under-21 squad and believes they have been undermined by fine details, such as Liam Henderson’s wrongly-disallowed equaliser against Macedonia, going against them.

“We’ve had a bit of criticism from certain people, saying we aren’t good enough but I think we are a good side,” he said. “On paper, we’re a good side so it’s hard to take that we’re not going to qualify. Friday was very frustrating because I thought we battered them the whole game but sometimes you get games where things just don’t go for you.

“The boys have been playing with and against each other from a young age so we know how each other play. We’re a fairly settled group and we like to pass the ball well but we just need to try and keep progressing as players and as a team.”