Scotland Under-21 coach Scot Gemmill believes Stevie Mallan’s brimming confidence can take him to the next level with club and country because “you couldn’t knock him down with a shotgun”.
The Hibs midfielder has scored nine teams for the Easter Road club this season, all from outside the penalty area, and will be a key player for Scotland over the next week as they try to secure a place in the European Under-21 Championship finals.
Mallan scored twice from long range for Hibs against Hamilton at the weekend and enters vital Under-21 qualifiers against Ukraine and England still high on adrenaline.
“He’s not shy anyway. In terms of confidence, you couldn’t knock him down with a shotgun,” joked Gemmill. “He’s shown he can influence games and that’s the real test of any player. It’s not just goals, he’s creating chances and doing his job and influencing games. Everyone is excited to try and push him to the next level.
“Even going back to his time in the Championship with St Mirren, it was obvious he could do it. To be able to do it in the Premiership is tremendous, Goalscoring is a huge asset to any team but I’m sure Neil Lennon will be trying to improve him in all the other aspects of his game because he’s definitely got potential.
“The real challenge is to not just be good in one area. If you are going to play at the top level, you have to be nine out of ten in every aspect of your game.”
Gemmill praised Mallan for recovering top form so quickly after a disappointing year-long spell at Barnsley. His influence has helped Hibs climb to second in the Premiership. “I think he’s shown maturity to handle that [Barnsley] disappointment. Hopefully he’s using it as a motivation.
“I’d like to think we helped him with that. We carried on selecting him during that period. The fact he’s handled that, come back to Scotland with a great team under a good manager and is influencing games is another credit to him.”
Scotland have an outside chance of reaching next summer’s European Under-21 Championship in Italy and San Marino if they beat both Ukraine in Kiev on Friday and England at Tynecastle on Tuesday.
Having lost 2-0 to Ukraine at McDiarmid Park last November, the young Scots know their task in Eastern Europe is unenviable. Their last visit to Ukraine ended with a 4-0 hammering two years ago but Gemmill has worked on making his group a more organised and resilient unit.
“I haven’t hidden it, we need to make sure we concede as few goals as possible,” he stated. “In my opinion, the team will only be successful if we don’t concede goals.
“The challenge to the players – it’s not about qualification. Of course it’s there in the background, but the main challenge to the players is to show that they cannot concede goals and build from there. For me that’s the platform for any team to do well.
“In the last Under-21 campaign, which included that 4-0 defeat in Ukraine, we conceded too many goals. If anything has given us a platform to do well, it’s being hard to beat and not conceding goals. That’s what we need to get correct on Friday, the tactical discipline. The players will know their jobs and the challenge is for them to do their jobs.”