Scotland call came as surprise, says Hibs’ Steven Whittaker

Steven Whittaker's last Scotland cap came against Denmark in March 2016
Steven Whittaker's last Scotland cap came against Denmark in March 2016
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Steven Whittaker has admitted his call-up for Scotland’s World Cup qualifying matches against Lithuania and Malta came as a shock because he felt his days on the international stage were over.

It is 17 months since the 33-year-old last pulled on a dark blue jersey for a friendly against Denmark but, he believes, his return to Easter Road lies behind his return to Gordon Strachan’s squad.

He said: “My last game was a year past March so I definitely felt I’d fallen out of things. There were no excuses. I wasn’t playing at Norwich last season so it was hard to keep myself involved.

“Other people were playing and doing well so I thought it was maybe in the past for me. I had 31 caps, I’d had a good crack at it but I never gave up on the hope I might back in if I was playing. That’s been the case, I have come back to Hibs, I’ve managed to start the season pretty well. The manager has seen that and put me back in.

“It’ll be good to see the boys and get back in at that level again.”

Whittaker’s last Scotland game, won by an early Matt Ritchie goal, coincided with John McGinn’s debut for the national team, an occasion he marked with a man-of-the-match performance which, according to his Easter Road team-mate, should herald the start of a long international career.

He said: “I didn’t see a lot of Scottish matches when I was in Norwich but you try to keep up to date as much as you can and I always kept an eye on Hibs.

“It was difficult with not so many of Hibs’ games being on television as they were in the Championship, but I was aware of John and how well he was doing. But the build-up to that Denmark game was the first time I’d had the chance to see him at first hand. He was a breath of fresh air. He’s a bubbly character, easy to get on with. He slotted in with no problems at all. He wasn’t scared, he put his mark down in training and you could see his quality right away. It’s a massive step from the Championship to international football but Gordon obviously saw what all the Hibs fans and those around the club had seen and what he is capable of.

“For John to be in the squad consistently is great for him, travelling and getting used to all the things that come with international football.”

There are some who see McGinn as the long-term replacement for current captain Scott Brown, Whittaker’s former Hibs team-mate who briefly called a halt to his Scotland career only to have second thoughts.

Whittaker said: “I was delighted Scotty came back. He’s a big personality and player for the national side. It’s great to have him back, but he is not going to go on forever. It will be up to John. There will be other players in there fighting for the jersey. There’s always great competition for international places. But he has the right attitude and, if he continues to do well and progress the way he is, then I’m sure he will get his chance.”