International duty gives Hibs star break from Final fever

David Wotherspoon
David Wotherspoon
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The hullaballoo of life as a Hibs player these days has been temporarily cast aside by David Wotherspoon this week as he savours the welcome release of an international break with Scotland Under-21s.

After all, fighting a relegation battle while simultaneously pondering the enormity of next month’s all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final will have been an emotionally wearying business for everyone at Hibs.

With this in mind, a gathering with a fresh set of faces and a no-pressure friendly for a burgeoning young Scottish side against an Italy Under-21 team containing some of the most exciting young talent in Europe provides the perfect form of respite for Wotherspoon.

“I really enjoy coming away with the Under-21s,” he told the Evening News.

“It gives you a wee break away from club football, which is good considering there’s so much going on at Hibs.

“You see your team-mates at Hibs every day, but you only see this group every so often. It’s good to see the Scotland boys and get in amongst it, we always have a good laugh, chill out together and look forward to the games.

“There’s no pressure in a game like this. We’re up against a good Italian side so we just need to go out and enjoy it.”

Although he’s got some time away from the rigours of club duties, Wotherspoon will still be checking in at his usual workplace tonight, with the friendly scheduled for Easter Road.

It will be the first time the young Scots have played in the Capital since they lost to Iceland in a play-off for last summer’s European Championships. While Hibs have struggled for victories at home over the past year and a bit, Wotherspoon is visibly proud at the prospect of once again wearing his country’s colours at his own club’s stadium. “It’s a bonus that it’s at Easter Road, it’s a great stadium,” he said, enthusiastically.

“The Iceland game there was a magnificent occasion.

“This one is a friendly rather than a big qualifier, but hopefully we’ll still get a big crowd and a lot of support.

“There will be an extra onus on myself and [Hibs team-mate] Paul Hanlon because it’s at our home ground, but it’s a nice thing to look forward to.”

The Scotland Under-21 team is flourishing at present, sitting just a point behind the Netherlands after five games of the 2013 European Championship qualifying.

They are set to benefit in tonight’s friendly from the addition of Chelsea’s Somalia-born sensation, Islam Feruz, the 16-year-old whom Celtic nurtured before his acrimonious move to London.

While Feruz, Gary Mackay-Steven, Johnny Russell and Scott Allan are likely to be the star attractions for most Scotland fans, Wotherspoon has proved himself a highly-reliable figure whenever he has pulled on a dark blue jersey.

In fact, so much so that some observers feel he looks a far more assured player for country than for club. “I’ve noticed that people seem to think I play better for Scotland than I do for Hibs but it’s not something I’m conscious of,” he said.

“I probably do feel slightly more relaxed when I’m playing for the Under-21s because of the pressure of being involved in a relegation battle with Hibs, but the nerves are there in every game I go into, so it’s not a major difference.”

The young Italians, led by a legendary pair of former Juventus players in the form of manager Ciro Ferrara and assistant Angelo Peruzzi, come to Edinburgh with the wind in their sails after winning all five of their Euro 2013 qualifiers so far.

They may lack household names – Mario Balotelli is still eligible but isn’t involved, while Roma sensation Fabio Borini has stepped up to the senior ranks – but they are still a formidable young side with a host of emerging prospects.

While there are a few youngsters on the fringes of the big clubs such as Inter Milan and Juventus, the squad is generally made up of players from less-fashionable clubs. Indeed, the jewel in Ferrara’s crown is arguably Ciro Immobile – the top scorer in Serie B with Pescara – whom parent club Genoa paid Juventus ¤8 million for in January.

While Wotherspoon admits he only knows some of the Italians through recognising their names from football manager computer games, he is all too aware that they will provide top-level opposition for Billy Stark’s team this evening.

“It should be a good game,” continued the Hibs player. “They’ll be a good team, probably on a par with the Dutch.

“We looked at their league and they’ve not dropped a point, so they’ll be a hard team to beat. They’ve obviously got plenty young talent and will probably have some players who will fancy their chances of sneaking into the full Euro 2012 squad.”

Steadying himself for a tough test on his break away from club matters, Wotherspoon wouldn’t have it any other way.

While international friendlies often bring a raft of call-offs, the Hibs player insists you’ll never catch him trying to exaggerate a niggle in order to avoid joining up with his country.

“Representing your country is something you’ve got to be proud of,” he says.

“If I’m injury-free, I always love to get away and join the national squad.”

• TONIGHT’S clash kicks off at 7.00pm and tickets are available at the gate priced £5 (adult) and £2 (child).