THE “five-one” gestures were everywhere around Easter Road at the season’s first Edinburgh derby. Even the local constabulary indulged in the Scottish-Cup themed hand signals. However, Andy Webster returns to the same venue in Leith tonight needing to exorcise the demons of that particular scoreline with Scotland.
A week after helping Hearts annihilate Hibs 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final in May, Webster found himself on the receiving end as the USA destroyed Scotland in Jacksonville by the same score.
Experiencing 5-1 twice in seven days left the defender with contrasting emotions, and perhaps even a bit of a sore head.
He managed to retain his place in the international squad for this evening’s friendly with Australia. The opportunity for redemption has been almost three months in the waiting for those involved in what stands as the most emphatic defeat of Craig Levein’s era. Tonight becomes something of a rebuilding programme and Webster intends to play his part.
He had wait more than two years to regain a place in the Scotland squad prior to the USA friendly. It proved to be a nightmare return and, understandably, he is eager to prove it was a one-off.
“On one hand the season ended great with the cup final, but then the next week it wasn’t so great,” explained Webster. “I’m not one for getting carried away one way or the other. It’s great winning, but you’re always going to get the other side of it as well. It’s just about keeping things on an even keel and taking what you want from it.
“I do think we need to look at what happened. People say you learn more from a defeat than you do when winning. When you win you assume everything is fine, but when you lose you analyse things a bit more. That can be more beneficial as an individual, seeing where things went wrong.
“Being a defender, when you lose five goals, you have to take responsibility for that. But it’s a collective thing: it isn’t just about the goalie and the back four. You have to analyse things and get on with it.
“Circumstances are different between then and now. I was playing every week, but a lot of the boys had already had time off [before the USA match]. Now most of us have at least had a few pre-season games, and some of us have had competitive matches. This is different to the end of last season.”
Australia, like Scotland, are introducing some fresh faces to international football tonight. That means Webster lining up against his Hearts colleague Ryan McGowan.
“I’ve told him not to make too many runs into the box,” laughed the Scot. “It’s great for Ryan to be involved. He did very well towards the end of last season, playing right-back, and the new manager has pushed him into midfield. He’s a good footballer who is adapting to life in the middle of the park.
“He has had a quick rise, but that’s the way it works if you work hard, which he has obviously done. He has got very good attributes and he’s getting his rewards now.
“It was difficult for him earlier last season with Jamie Hamill having joined Hearts, but he’ll be looking to kick on now and he has done very well.
“He’s a good guy to have about because he’s lively. All the boys get on really well with him. There was some banter when he was called up, but I think he’s just delighted to be involved. Hopefully he plays because he’s getting the rewards from working hard.
“He’ll be comfortable playing at Easter Road and it’s only along the road for him. That makes a difference rather than having to travel here, there and everywhere. Familiar surroundings make things slightly easier.”
After winning only two caps in the past six years, Webster is looking to become a familiar face within the Scotland squad from now on. This season has seen him continue from where he left off at club level – generally strolling through matches as the reliable lynchpin of the Hearts defence. Scotland need him to maintain fitness and replicate that form.
“Any time you get called into the international squad is pleasing,” he continued. “I know it’s probably early in the season for a lot of [English-based] boys, but we’re a couple of games in now. It’s good preparation for what’s coming next.
“I was speaking to Charlie Adam last night and he said he was playing for Liverpool against Bayer Leverkusen, and Naisy’s been away playing Malaga and things like that. It’s not like they’re playing average teams. From that point of view, they’ll be totally fine.
“Over the summer, I did a lot myself to keep myself relatively fit. There’s only so much you can do on your own and you always know it’s going to be hard when you come back. I think, the older you get, you know what it takes. I did a bit over the summer and came back reasonably fit, so I was able to top that up during pre-season.
“Everybody knows how their own body works. Some boys will do next to nothing over the summer then come back and be totally fine. Others, like myself, will do a lot of work over the summer and it probably doesn’t even show when you start pre-season. When you get older, you realise what you need to do as an individual.”