Anthony Ralston: Previously unheralded Celtic right-back delivers message not just to country but club too in first Scotland start

If the 2021-22 season had already exceeded even Anthony Ralston’s own expectations, it brought an additional layer of joyous wonder for the previously unheralded Celtic player on a rainy night at Hampden.

Ralston marked his first starting appearance for Scotland with his maiden goal for his country in the facile 2-0 UEFA Nations League Group B1 victory over Armenia.

On the back of a campaign which saw him collect his first two major winners’ medals at club level along with a new long-term contract, he has now announced himself as a serious contender for more regular international recognition under Steve Clarke.

Ever since Nathan Patterson followed up his emergence at Rangers under Steven Gerrard with his first Scotland call-up just before the Euro 2020 finals last year, there has been a widespread perception that the now Everton player was set to make the right-back or right wing-back slot his own for the national team.

Anthony Ralston scored his first goal for Scotland against Armenia.

But Ralston’s contribution to Celtic’s revival under Ange Posteocglou as they reclaimed the Premiership title saw many of their supporters pressing his claims ahead of the former Ibrox player.

There may be an element of classic Old Firm whataboutery to that debate but it’s safe to say Clarke now has gratifying options in that department.

Having made his senior debut as a late substitute in the 2-0 win over Denmark in November, Ralston proved more than ready to seize this opportunity to shine as he was started ahead of the fit-again Patterson.

It was a night when the 23-year-old had precious little in the way of defending to do, such was the paucity of any attacking threat posed by the limited visitors.

Ralston had all the scope he could have wished for to surge forward and took full advantage. At times, he was the most advanced home player on the pitch and he gave Armenian left wing-back Kamo Hovhannisyan all sorts of problems with his purposeful efforts.

He set up two premium chances for Scotland in the opening few minutes with inviting crosses, Stuart Armstrong hitting a post and Andy Robertson forcing a fine save from Armenian ‘keeper David Yurchenko.

There was concern Ralston’s richly promising night would be cut short after just 24 minutes when he needed treatment for a head knock after a painful clash with Khoren Bayramyan as they contested a cross inside the six yard box.

But he was able to continue, receiving warm applause from the Tartan Army which soon turned to a loud ovation as he made the breakthrough four minutes later.

His willingness to get into the thick of the action inside the Armenian penalty area was undiminished and it was rewarded when he beat Yurchenko with a clever and precise header from Armstrong’s cross.

Ralston saw the chance of a second goal slip away from him on the hour mark, his shot blocked by Hovhannes Hambartsumyan after the ball broke to him from a Ryan Christie corner.

But he had made a big impression on the home fans who afforded him vociferous acclaim when he was replaced by Patterson in the 76th minute.

As Patterson won his ninth cap for Scotland, he may now have a credible rival for his position in Ralston whose night was completed when he was named as the official Man of the Match.