How taxi driver played role in Tony Watt’s Scotland call up

Tony Watt celebrates scoring for Hearts. Picture: SNS

Tony Watt celebrates scoring for Hearts. Picture: SNS

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Former Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh once memorably took advice from a Lisbon taxi driver when formulating tactics prior to a 5-0 thrashing from Portugal.

But Mark McGhee is confident he can rely on the testimony of a Partick Thistle-supporting cabbie’s view that Tony Watt has come of age.

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee

Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee

The Scotland assistant coach was already sure of Watt’s increased level of maturity in any case after conversations with the striker during the summer.

McGhee also sought the counsel of Hearts director of football Craig Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson. Both provided glowing references about a player who scored his first goal for Hearts in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Thistle.

“I didn’t see the game at the weekend but I spoke to a Thistle taxi driver in midweek and he told me he had been impressed with Tony Watt,” said McGhee. “He had worked his socks off and Hearts eventually got the win.

“He went the distance as well, which is a question which has been asked of him – whether he can go the 90 minutes? 
Everything about him is positive.”

He might have been a late addition to the squad for Sunday’s opening World Cup qualifier against Malta but McGhee insists Watt was never an afterthought.

The striker, who is on loan at Tynecastle from Charlton Athletic, was absent from Gordon Strachan’s original 27-player squad when it was named nearly a fortnight ago. But he picked a good time to score a last-minute winner against Thistle at the weekend.

A hamstring injury picked up by Leigh Griffiths in Celtic’s victory over Aberdeen on the same day created space in the squad for another striker. Despite many expecting Ross McCormack, the £12 million Aston Villa centre forward, to step in, Watt was the surprise choice.

McGhee revealed the 22-year-old was always a contender to be called-up after he was satisfied by Watt’s attitude and outlook during two long conversations with him prior to his return to Scotland with Hearts.

“There is a new energy about him – and not just from when he went to Hearts,” said McGhee. “I had two quite long conversations with Tony in the summer and reported back to Gordon that what I was hearing was of improved maturity and responsibility.

“He was talking a good game, talking about his own decisions and taking responsibility for himself,” he added. “I was very encouraged about what I heard from him.

“And then, of course, he made his move to Hearts. I have spoken to Craig and how they feel about him. He is on the right track now.

“Even when we had him in before, very early in the last campaign to look at him, we saw a good player. He just wasn’t in the right frame of mind back then. Now he is. And he has something to offer.

“This is international football and there is a responsibility, not only from the point of view of the performance – but also how you are acquitting yourself in general.

“The boy is getting it right. I spoke to Robbie [Neilson] about him and to Craig in the boardroom when they [Hearts] played Celtic. They confirmed everything I had been feeling about him.”

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