Whatever doubts still exist about Scott Bain’s worth as a goalkeeper, and there can’t be many, few could question his temperament.
He has passed two significant tests of nerve in the last three months. When it was put to him that he survived a baptism of fire at Estadio Azteca while making his Scotland debut in the second half of Scotland’s 1-0 defeat in Mexico City, he pointed out it isn’t the first time this season he has coped in such challenging circumstances.
It takes a lot to beat making your Celtic debut at Ibrox in an Old Firm game when it comes to sharpening the senses. But coming on at half-time for Scotland against a rampant Mexico in their towering home stadium, where the air is as thin as the margin for error, surely edges it.
Concerns over the altitude was the reason Scotland did not travel from Peru until the day before the game, meaning there was the further challenge of coping with a six-hour flight to factor in. “It was just a case of resting up and being prepared,” said Bain, who replaced Jon McLaughlin for the second half. “Nerves-wise I was fine.”
He certainly looked confident. Bain made two superb saves within minutes of coming on and clutched crosses with confidence as he inched his way towards a personal clean sheet. He suggested he has had plenty of practice being in the firing line after Alloa and Dundee, where more often than not he was battling on the side of the underdog. “I have definitely had a few games like that in my time, at Dundee and back in my Alloa days,” he said,
“I thought they [Mexico] were very good on the ball and technically they have got some top, top players. They move it really well along the edge of the box, so they are so dangerous.”
It’s become a common theme to chart the trajectory of players with rapid rises. Scott McKenna is the latest from here-to-there meme: Glebe Park with Aberdeen in the Irn-Bru Cup one minute, leading Scotland out into Estadio Azteca the next. Andy Robertson’s jump from Queen’s Park to the Champions League final remains the enduring one.
But Bain’s journey is also worth recalling. Just over four years ago he was still a part-time player at Alloa Athletic. His performances there earned him a deserved move to Dundee, where he replaced Kyle Letheren as first-choice keeper following the club’s promotion to the Premier League.
Things turned sour for him at Dens Park this season after a fall-out with manager Neil McCann. But this was not before starting the season as No 1 against Raith Rovers in a Betfred Cup-tie. From Stark’s to Azteca in ten months is some ascent. From Alloa to Azteca in four years also counts as an accelerated career curve. Not to Bain, however. He was working as a labourer while playing at Alloa. “It didn’t feel that quick when I was getting up and going to building sites every day,” he said. “It is mad when you look back to where I started. This season especially has probably summed up my whole career. It shows you can be thrown to the side and then, suddenly, you are on top of the world. It has been great. The game on Sunday topped it off.”
The disagreement with McCann – the pair are understood to have clashed at half-time in the 3-1 defeat by Hamilton in September – has turned out to be the defining moment of his season. Even Bain, who demonstrated impeccable handling in the rarefied air of Mexico City, would have trouble tracking his own trajectory this season. It has, as he himself accepts, been all over the place.
He was exiled at Dundee and then sent out on loan to Hibs. Then Craig Gordon picked up an injury and Bain headed on loan to Celtic, where he made his bow in the 3-2 win at Ibrox. He impressed Brendan Rodgers enough during this loan period to be offered a four-year deal. He signed this deal last month, bringing an end to his four-year spell with Dundee. But it’s a quirky detail that had he played against Peru rather than Mexico, he would have done so as a Dundee player. His registration reverted to the Dens Park club after the Scottish Cup final v Aberdeen. His Celtic contract only started on Friday, 1 June.
The trouble is, what’s next? His international ambitions hinge on him playing regularly for Celtic. Gordon is ahead of him in that queue, as well as at international level. The fear is Bain retreats from sight again. “I think I just have to keep going,’” he said. “I have got a new attitude since I went to Celtic. I have a new mentality which has obviously been instilled by the manager and the players I am playing with. It is a case of just getting better every day.”
l In association with Bruce Farms, of Perthshire.