Northern lights shine on local boys as John McGinn sparkles

Scotland's Ryan Christie, left, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah of the Netherlands battle for the ball at Pittodrie. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
Scotland's Ryan Christie, left, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah of the Netherlands battle for the ball at Pittodrie. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
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There are worse places to make your Scotland debut than Pittodrie. It was here, after all, that the most prolific and decorated career of them all in the famous dark blue 
jersey began.

It is doubtful if any of the new boys blooded by interim manager Malky Mackay last night will come close to emulating a certain Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish, who went on to win a record 102 caps and score 30 goals for his country after making his bow as a substitute against Portugal in the Granite City back in 1971.

But there was certainly plenty of local interest in the squad SFA performance director Mackay chose as he held the fort while his bosses seek a full-time replacement for Gordon Strachan. There was a time, of course, when Aberdeen players were a mainstay of the national team, from the club’s golden era in the 1980s when Jim Leighton, Willie Miller and Alex McLeish formed its defensive axis, to the 1990s when Stewart McKimmie, Eoin Jess and Scott Booth were regulars in dark blue.

The past decade has been a more fallow spell. When Kenny McLean made his debut in the 1-0 friendly win against Czech Republic in Prague in March 2016, he was the first Aberdeen player to represent Scotland at senior level since Lee Miller in 2009.

With McLean joined in last night’s starting line-up by Ryan Christie, it was the first time since 2006, when Russell Anderson and Scott Severin featured in the Kirin Cup in Japan, that two Dons men had been in the same Scotland side – albeit Christie is on loan from Celtic.

McLean, in a central midfield role alongside John McGinn, was unable to impose himself on the game as much as the Hibs man in an attacking sense. Most of McLean’s work involved offering a defensive screen in front of the back four.

Christie flitted in and out of proceedings but produced some eye-catching moments from his position on the left of midfield. One thrusting run and cross, just before the Dutch opened the scoring, deserved a better reward as the ball flashed across the six-yard box. There were other times, however, when Christie was knocked off the ball just a little too easily by the more physically powerful visitors.

The Aberdeen connection extended to Ryan Jack who made his Scotland debut at right-back. The occasional jeering of the Rangers player by a section of the home crowd was as predictable as it was pathetic. It would certainly have come as no surprise to the 25-year-old, who left his hometown club in the summer to sign on at Ibrox.

Jack isn’t the first player to find himself on the wrong side of Scotland fans whose club loyalties trump the backing of their country. Former Hearts midfielder Ian Black suffered a similar response from some of the crowd at Easter Road when he won his only cap against Australia five years ago.

There was plenty to distract Jack from any negative reaction in the stands. In reprising the full-back role which he once filled regularly for Scotland Under-21s, he had to contend not only with Dutch goalscorer Memphis Depay but also the regular overlapping runs of the visitors’ left-back Nathan Ake. He stuck to the task well and could be satisfied with his contribution.

There was a warmer reception for another returning Don when Ryan Fraser replaced James Forrest in the second half to make his second appearance for Scotland. The Bournemouth winger almost made a sensational impact, his first involvement seeing him latch on to a Kieran Tierney pass and burst beyond club-mate Ake to drill a left foot shot narrowly wide.

Mackay firmly rejected any suggestion that the inclusion of the Aberdeen players in his squad was motivated by hopes of increasing local interest in the fixture. There had certainly been no attempt to do that on Scotland’s two previous appearances at Pittodrie.

When the ground hosted Gordon Strachan’s first match in charge, a 1-0 win over Estonia in February 2013, and a 3-0 victory over Faroe Islands under Craig Levein in November 2010, no Dons players were in either squad.

The old stadium has generally been a happy hunting ground for Scotland. In the 14 previous internationals, stretching back to 1900, there had only been two defeats for the home side – a 3-1 loss to Egypt in the build-up to the 1990 World Cup finals and a 2-1 reversal against Nigeria under Berti Vogts in 2002.

So this was a third loss at Pittodrie, with Scotland’s fourth debutant, late sub Jason Cummings, unable to snatch an equaliser when he shot straight at Jasper Cillessen.

That compounded a frustrating night for Mackay and for the hometown fans, who saw club captain Graeme Shinnie remain an unused substitute. But at least Aberdeen was back on the international map.