CALLUM PATERSON faces two of the biggest tests in his career over the next four days when Scotland meet Lithuania and Slovakia.
Hearts coach Robbie Neilson advised the full-back that pressure will be intense but backed him to thrive over the two World Cup qualifiers.
The double header should see Paterson earn the third and fourth caps of his fledgling international career. The 21-year-old is likely to start both matches after a solid display against Malta in Scotland’s opening qualifier last month.
Neilson, his club manager, praised the player’s maturity but warned him that he is now facing a step up in class. Lithuania visit Hampden tomorrow night before Scotland play Group F’s second seeds Slovakia in Trnava on Tuesday.
“Callum is doing really well in his performances at Hearts, and that’s got him into the international team. Every game is a step up for him,” Neilson told the Evening News. “He played in the Malta game and handled himself very well. That was a very attacking match.
“Tomorrow he plays against Lithuania, which is another step again. Hopefully he does well in that match and then it’s off to Slovakia, which is a real test. He’s proven all along he can take those steps and we’d love him to continue doing that this week.
“These games will be the two of the biggest he’s played in. Slovakia away is a huge game, but Scotland have to take care of Lithuania at home first. I think there are expectations there. You go into the national team, then there are qualifiers for a major tournament and there are big expectations on you.
“He has to handle the pressure and I’m sure he will. I hope he goes and enjoys it and shows what he can do. I’m going along to the game tomorrow. Hopefully Jack Hamilton will get some involvement on the bench and hopefully Callum will play.”
Neilson explained that Paterson and Hamilton are already showing improvement since they joined the senior Scotland squad in May. “Whenever players go away with an international squad, they are surrounded by top players. A lot of the time, it gives them a realisation that they’ve still got a long way to go,” he continued.
“They come back and work harder because they realise there’s still a long way to go in their career. I think you see that with all the players who go away, from kids away with Scotland Under-16s or Arnaud Djoum with Cameroon. It’s an eye-opening experience. I can see a maturity in Callum, and in Jack as well, from their time with Scotland.”