The momentous wasn’t supposed to ensue from the mundane that faced Scotland through meeting San Marino in a dead rubber of a Euro 2020 qualifier at a rain-drenched Hampden last night.
Yet it did for scorers John McGinn and Lawrence Shankland. Courtesy of a first-half hat-trick in the 6-0 demolition, Aston Villa midfielder McGinn became the first player to net an opening 45 minute triple for the national side in a competitive Scotland fixture since Hibernian great Lawrie Reilly did so against the United States in 1952.
In opening his Scotland account, Dundee United striker Shankland became the first player from a Scottish lower league club to score in a competitive Scotland international since Clyde’s Tommy Ring netted against England at Wembley in 1957.
For McGinn, the historic nature of his feat last night had a personal dimension too. “I’ve never scored a hat-trick before because I used to be a left-back so I never used to get forward,” said the 24-year-old. “I’m beaming, delighted. I’ve been watching Lawrence Shankland in training and learning how to finish. The match ball is in my bag. I might never get another one so I’m definitely going to keep this one and treasure it.”
McGinn admitted the morale-boosting efforts of Steve Clarke’s men on the back of the misery caused by the 4-0 thumping in Russia on Thursday put a lid on a “tough few days”. It contrasts with the former St Mirren man’s new-found ability to find the net at international level. That eluded him across his first 14 caps. Now in his past four he has four strikes – opening his account in the 2-1 home defeat by Russia last month.
“It’s four goals for me with Scotland after a slow start. I’m delighted and I hope it’s the start of many to come,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been working on at club level and hopefully I can use it to help Scotland as well. Credit to the staff at Aston Villa, I’m working tirelessly on making runs into the box and making myself more useful up the park.”
McGinn feared his scoring efforts might be wiped out by the weather with the final half hour being played out in on a pitch that started to resemble a giant paddling pool. Yet, Uefa rules state that had French referee Jerome Brisard called a halt to proceedings, the outcome would have been playing out the remaining minutes at the midfielder’s old stomping ground of St Mirren Park today.
“‘The referee never said anything,” McGinn said. “He didn’t even flinch which was a good thing for us. Going back to St Mirren to play might have appealed to me at the start but not by the end. The ball was sticking a bit. I wouldn’t say it was dangerous but it was getting tough. The right-hand side was better than the left, but we decided at times to play on the left, which was a bit stupid. The main thing tonight was to put a performance on and get a result and we managed to do that.”
Meanwhile, following on from making his Scotland debut in Moscow, 24-year-old Shankland agreed his Hampden goal capped a week that ranked as “definitely” among the best of the Championship performer’s life.
“Just being called up for the national team was great,” the United forward said. “Then the other night against Russia I came on much earlier than anticipated. Obviously the result was disappointing but it was still a great experience for me to play in a stadium like that in front of a massive crowd. And I’m delighted with tonight.
“I knew I would get chances. San Marino let teams have the ball and I knew the boys would create things for me. It wasn’t the prettiest goal I’ve ever scored but I’ll take it. If I didn’t score tonight people would have been saying: ‘he’s no good’. The fact that it was San Marino was something I ignored and thankfully I scored anyway. I’m not getting carried away though. I’ll go back to my club and keep doing what I can and hopefully keep up the form that got me in this squad.
“It’s Queen of the South on Saturday down the road on their astro pitch.”
Shankland raised a few eyebrows when he exchanged his Scotland top at the end for a, frankly, hardly prized San Marino strip but he revealed the belting rain meant he did not sacrifice a coveted possession in doing so. “We’d worn two because it was soaking, he said.”