Scotland 3-0 Ukraine: Scott McTominay shines in Hampden renaissance
Scotland 3-0 Ukraine: Scott McTominay shines in Hampden renaissance

Scott McTominay was a stand-out performer for Scotland in the victory over Ukraine
Scott McTominay was a stand-out performer for Scotland in the victory over Ukraine

In the early stages of the second half at Hampden, when the place was still feasting on its fingernails while waiting for a goal fans must have feared would never come, Scotland created five chances in a surreal 10-minute spell, everything from near-sitters for Stuart Armstrong to one off the woodwork for Che Adams.

In the midst of this, Scott McTominay got in the face of Ukraine's Ruslan Malinovskyi and hounded him off the ball. On a night that brought so many eye-catching moments for Steve Clarke's team, this one was unremarkable, but it actually embodied Scotland's relentlessness quite perfectly.

McTominay dispossessed Malinovskyi and sent his team on the attack again. He kept their tempo up, he put his team back on the front foot. Malinovskyi gestured briefly in the aftermath, suggesting a foul or just articulating frustration. Little moments like that allowed for big moments later on, when the goals came in a deluge.

It was a selfless performance from McTominay and one of his best - if not his best - for his country. Mercifully restored to his natural domain in the middle of the park - if this doesn't mark an end to his days as an ill-fitting Scotland centre-half then nothing will - it was hard to take your eyes off him.

He's such a curiosity. Lauded by a succession of Manchester United managers - he's the second coming of Darren Fletcher in a sense - he's never too far from the front of the queue when the fans start to dole out the flak. And in the early weeks of this season there was a bottomless pit of the stuff.

There are privileges that come with playing for one of the biggest clubs on the planet but built into the deal is a million eyeballs on your every move, an audience that can elevate you or destroy you, depending on your temperament.

From McSideways to striding forward

Amid the bitterness and rancour of United's dismal opening league games of the Premier League season, supporters' groups lined up in turn to slam their players. McTominay, in places, was taken out by the roots. There are any number of examples, but the fans' YouTube channel with 1.4m subscribers is not a bad place to start. After the losses to Brighton and Brentford McTominay was eviscerated.

'Scott McSideways' was the main reason why Manchester United were failing was the gist. He's a Championship player. A headless chicken. He couldn't run a burger joint not to mind the United midfield. The mere fact that he was anywhere near the team boiled the blood of the presenter. It was a 10-minute deconstruction viewed by 161,000 people with 3,300 likes and zero dislikes.

The chances of McTominay subjecting himself to that video are also probably zero, but then he wouldn't need to see it to know what's being said. He's been around United all his days. He gets it. Since then, he's played every minute of United's four-game winning run in the league and was a standout in most of those. That's the kind of response that has kept him at the club for so long.

From his United debut in May 2017, he's had to negotiate heavy traffic at Old Trafford. Nemanja Matic came in for £40m, Fred was signed for £52m, Donny van de Beek arrived for £35m and now Casemiro, one of the finest defensive midfielders of his generation, is in the house with a price tag of £65m.

At £89m, Paul Pogba was an earlier recruit. McTominay has seen some of that lot leave the club and others are sitting on the bench, Casemiro chief among them. The academy graduate who didn't cost them a bean endures.

Scott McTominay applauding the Old Trafford crowd
McTominay has been keeping Brazil duo Casemiro and Fred out of the staring line-up at Manchester United in recent weeks

As he bossed the midfield on Wednesday at Hampden you could only admire the guy. All that stick, all that time spent shoe-horned into the Scotland defence, all that turbulence in his club life and yet he motors on.

One thing we know about McTominay is that he has resilience coursing through his veins. As an 11-year-old - long before his major growth spurt - he was the smallest player in his team at United and yet all who watched knew he had the biggest heart.

At 16 he lost a lot of critical game-time through injury. Jose Mourinho gave him his United debut at 20 and held him up as an example to others. Mourinho loved his physicality and his mentality. He's needed that strength. Lesser players would have folded in his circumstances.

In the revival under Erik ten Hag, McTominay is thriving again. It's said by those at United and Scotland that he's a sponge for information and although not a gregarious type he has that presence that makes him a leader. Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ralf Rangnick all mentioned at various times that he could be a future United captain. In picking him ahead of Casemiro, Fred and Van de Beek, Ten Hag is yet another United manager who trusts in McTominay.

Scotland has found itself again

Wednesday was a renaissance night for McTominay and for every other Scotland player, a sign that the joylessness of June was probably just a bump on the road rather than anything more profound. The team found itself again. They played like a group of players with self-belief.

And there's much to believe in when they turn up with the kind of mindset that they showed against Ukraine. This is a good collection of players. Clarke's starting line-up had eight players from the Premier League. Of the 16 who saw action, 10 were from the top division in England.

There was also Craig Gordon, Scotland's player of the year last season, Callum McGregor, Celtic's captain, Jack Hendry, who plays in Serie A and Lyndon Dykes, who scored twice. Dykes has now got eight goals in 23 games for Scotland. To put it into context, that's more than Steve Archibald (four in 27), Charlie Nicholas (five in 20), Andy Gray (seven in 20) and Gordon Durie (seven in 43) managed. He's one shy of Kevin Gallacher, who won 53 caps and is just three short of Joe Jordan, who played 52 times for his country.

Only three of the players Clarke used on Wednesday are in their 30s - Armstrong and Kenny McLean are 30 and Gordon is 39. There were two 20-year-old full-backs. Billy Gilmour is only 21 and will come back into the picture if he can catch a break in his club career. The average age of those who played was 26.7.

That's pretty healthy, but it won't mean a whole lot if Scotland don't keep up the intensity they showed against Ukraine.

They have Republic of Ireland at Hampden on Saturday. On paper, Scotland look stronger, but that was said in June, too. The Irish had a rage for victory in Dublin that Clarke's team couldn't deal with. Scotland had that edge themselves on Wednesday. Repeating it, time and again, is the challenge ahead of them now.

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