It could have appeared that the criterion required to earn a starting berth for Scotland last night was some sort of connection to one club. And it wasn’t just that Gordon Strachan set the Celtic six free on Slovenia as he sought a stay of execution for both himself and the country’s World Cup hopes.
Until last summer Charlie Mulgrew was playing in the colours of the Scottish champions alongside the half dozen current Celtic players – Scott Brown, Craig Gordon, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths, Kieran Tierney and debutant Stuart Armstrong – who lined up at kick-off for this most decisive of international ties.
Left-back for the evening Andrew Robertson, pictured below, whose selection led to Tierney occupying the wholly unfamiliar right-back berth, was once in Celtic’s youth system... only to be released for that classic Scottish flaw of being “too wee”.
Robert Snodgrass, meanwhile, is a self-confessed Celtic supporter who has always been presented as longing to play for his boyhood team. Considering the composition of the national side last night, the West Ham attacker came as near as damn it to fulfilling his dream.
Then there was James Morrison. Surely, the knowledgeable would cry, the West Brom midfielder has always been open about his Rangers-supporting allegiances. Indeed so, but in the summer Brendan Rodgers looked set to succeed in strenuous attempts to bring him to Parkhead; only for his current employers to block the move at the last minute.
That leaves Russell Martin as the odd man out among the Celtic-connected starting XI selected by former Celtic manager Strachan. Unless you want to count, for the sake of uniformity, that the Englishman credits his journey to the ranks of the senior Scotland side to a Celtic-supporting father.
The presence of six Celtic current players made for a highly unusual reliance on one club side. As they have racked up a 35-game domestic unbeaten run, the present-day team have succeeded in being mentioned in the same breath as the Lisbon Lions. This has been achieved by Rodgers’ men eclipsing the 27-game unbeaten domestic run from the start of a season that had stood since the annus mirabilis of 1966-67, when the European Cup was annexed.
Last night, they added another parallel with the last notable occasion that six Celtic players were named in the Scotland side for a competitive fixture coming in that same season 50 years ago. Then, the fixture was against USSR, just two weeks before that memorable night when Jock Stein’s men defeated Inter Milan to lift the European Cup and become the first non-Latin side to lift European club football’s most prized trophy.
Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell, John Clark, Billy McNeill. Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox lined up in Scotland colours then . In fact, Willie Wallace later came off the bench to make it seven Celts in action.
Unfortunately, the Parkhead players selected against USSR more than a half century ago were unable to help produce the right result as Scotland lost that match 2-0. Last night was different, however, as Strachan’s men gave themselves a World Cup lifeline.
But how Griffiths will beat himself up over the sitter he missed when he clipped the ball on to the crossbar just beyond the half-hour mark with the goal absolutely at his mercy, only to strike the upright with a sumptuous low effort from the edge of the box a minute later.
These looked as if they were destined to be the pivotal moments of an evening when 20-year-old Tierney produced a display of dig and drive in an unfamiliar role, Armstrong looked the part in the international arena and Brown, Forrest and Gordon all did bits and pieces to merit their inclusion and give Scotland a backbone that made them look strong enough to take on the fight – on a night when really all of those given starting berths performed decently.
It might appear that the late, late rescue mission had little to do with Celtic in the final analysis. What with Chris Martin an Englishman, currently on loan at Fulham from Derby County. Yet, it had plenty. And not only for the fact that calm and poise from Armstrong allowed him to hold off for the split second required before he could send the matchwinner through to produce his excellent angled finish. Martin, as just had to be the case, claims his professional career can be put down to the inspiration of his Easterhouse-born father. A Celtic supporter.