5 under-21 players closest to a Scotland call-up

With the Scotland national team lying in the doldrums of international football once again, following another nearly-man campaign of disappointment and missing out on qualification for a major international tournament for a ninth successive time, plus an ageing pool of players, attentions have turned to the next crop of players fit to step up into the national team.

Hearts' Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson have become mainstays in the Scotland under-21 squad. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Hearts' Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson have become mainstays in the Scotland under-21 squad. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Gordon Strachan will be part of the back room staff on 13 November for the Scotland Under­21 squad’s next encounter against Ukraine – in their quest for European Championship qualification.

The team, announced yesterday, consists of Sam Nicholson, Ryan Christie, Callum Paterson, Jason Cummings, and John McGinn – among others.

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Another name included in the line­up is Hull’s Andy Robertson. Having Robertson an U21 success story, having already earned eight Scotland caps, and with Strachan present next Friday, it would be worth taking a closer look at some of the names mentioned, and their chances of advancing into the senior side.

1) Sam Nicholson (Hearts)

The 20­-year-­old Hearts winger has impressed for his club in recent seasons. In 67 club appearances since making his debut in 2012-2013 season, he has scored nine goals.

Albeit goal wise few and far between so far, he netted his first goal of last season in his side’s victory over Hibernian in the Edinburgh derby, and has scored two this campaign in 13 appearances.

As a young, burgeoning talent, he is a player with still a lot to offer. If he can keep up his appearances and performances for his club, and build on his four under-21 caps, there is no reason why he become a part of Strachan’s senior team plans.

2) Ryan Christie (Inverness, on loan from Celtic)

Another 20-year-old, Christie is a player who has made a name for himself in recent years.

Having followed in his father’s footsteps by playing for Inverness, and joining Celtic – having done the latter at the end of this summer’s transfer window – Christie, back on loan at his maiden club, has impressed for the under-21s. Having been called up to the U21s for a qualifier against Luxembourg last year, Christie ­ with five caps to date, scored in his team’s first European Championship qualifier away to Northern Ireland in September.

With two SPFL Young Player of the Month awards and one SFWA Young Player of the Year title to his name, if he can maintain and build on form, he could be seen donning a senior jersey very soon.

3) Callum Paterson (Hearts)

Like Nicholson, Paterson is another product of Hearts’ youth system.

At only 21, having already made a century of appearances for the Hearts first team and scoring 24 goals, the versatile youngster has been well acquainted with the Scotland youth set-up, having played for the U18, U19 and U21 sides.

Last November, Strachan called him up for a Euro 2016 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland, and a friendly against England.

Having been on the cusp of earning a first senior Scotland cap, and establishing himself over the past two seasons as a mainstay in his club’s line­up, Paterson is a front-runner to become the senior side’s next breakthrough story.

4) Jason Cummings (Hibernian)

Jason Cummings has been arguably the most impressive young player so far this season. With 65 appearances for his club and 25 goals – 11 of those coming this campaign already – the 20-year-old is riding high in confidence; having scored his latest goal in his side’s 2-1 victory over Championship leaders Rangers.

Maintaining his confidence and consistency will be key if he is to graduate from the U21 side to Strachan’s senior squad. With only two U21 appearances so far, it may be premature to start looking too far ahead, but if the forward’s goal ratio so far this season is anything to go by, he’s at least a name for Strachan to keep in mind.

5) John McGinn (Hibernian)

Lastly is Cummings’ Hibs team-mate John McGinn. The 21-year-old midfielder has represented the Scotland youth sides at U19 and U21 level – with four and six caps respectively.

Having started off his youth career at St Mirren and played for the first team side from 2012 to 2015, making 87 appearances, McGinn moved to Hibs this summer on a four-year contract.

With 11 appearances this season, two goals, and an impressive display in Sunday’s win over Rangers, he is certainly a young player showing positive signs.

However, with much more to prove, and consistency and form still to build upon, McGinn wouldn’t be first in line for a call­up to Strachan’s side, but certainly a name for an encouraging short­list for the Scotland manager to mull over.