John McGinn: It’s time to puff out our shoulders and start winning games

Scotland's John McGinn is confident the tide will turn for Alex McLeish's men following a difficult week. Pic: Craig Foy/SNS
Scotland's John McGinn is confident the tide will turn for Alex McLeish's men following a difficult week. Pic: Craig Foy/SNS
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It would be grossly unfair to believe that John McGinn has turned into Jonah McGinn. Yet, struggles have found the midfielder wherever he has turned this season.

Scotland’s travails may have been exercising him this past week. However, the 23-year-old will hardly have found any respite on returning to Aston Villa at the start of the week following Scotland’s double-header. The country may be reeling following the dismal 2-1 Nations League loss in Israel on Thursday and the less distressing, but still heavier defeat, that resulted in the 3-1 loss to Portugal in Sunday’s Hampden friendly.

McGinn has to pick himself up to focus on turning around the fortunes of Midlands club languishing in the lower reaches of the English Championship. That wasn’t the vision Steve Bruce sold the Scotland international on when persuading him to resist a move to his boyhood team Celtic when the time came to leave 
Hibernian in the summer.

The fact Bruce has now gone, and there is a clamour for his Scotland manager Alex McLeish to go the same way, reveals the grim climate in which McGinn is seeking to progress his career.

But while the midfielder may lack a little in terms of finesse, as has been exposed in his recent outings for the national side, he will never be found wanting over force of character. McGinn is prepared to stand up to any brickbats that might come the way of all those players in the Scotland set-up.

“It is a test for you,” he said. “You either go under and crumble or you puff your chest out and try and show what you are made of. I think over the piece [against Portugal] we managed to do that.

“You are willing to take the praise when it comes so you have to be willing to take the criticism when it comes and it has been fully merited. We know we need to do better. We need to go back to our clubs and get our confidence up.”

McLeish’s squad then need to return to his charge next month and dig him out of a very big hole indeed. Incredibly, it might only require a narrow defeat in Albania on 17 November and narrow win at home to Israel three days later for Scotland to finish above the pair in their three-team section.

Failure to earn the Euro 2020 play-off slot that is on off for Nations League group winners could leave the already assailed-from-all-sides McLeish being dumped after only 10 months and 10 games in post.

Six of the eight he has played so far have brought defeats – five of these friendlies against Belgium, Portugal, Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica. All of these countries featured in the World Cup, 
with Belgium close to winning it before earning third 
place.

They are currently No 2 in the Fifa rankings, with Portugal No 7 in that same world order. Mexico lie 15th, Peru 21st and Costa Rica are hardly souches in sitting 37th. McGinn believes none of this should be overlooked in the rush to judge McLeish for his record. It is why he quibbles with perception that the Scotland manager is under serious pressure.

“I am not sure,” he said. “We have had a lot of difficult games against top opposition since he has come in. We have played against some of the world’s best teams. We are fully supportive of the set-up and we are enjoying it. We are obviously not enjoying nights like the other night but we are pulling in the one direction. Hopefully when we come back from Albania we have an opportunity at Hampden to take us into a play-off.”

To do that the groundswell among the increasingly-exasperated followers of the national side is that McLeish must bin three-at-the-back. The Scotland manager, though, is adamant he will persevere with it so he accommodates stellar left-backs Andrew Robertson, pictured, and Kieran Tierney on the left side of the pitch. He switched to a 4-5-1 for the Portuguese encounter. However, this owed much to his not having the services of Tierney, the Celtic man left out for Sunday as the result of fatigue. McGinn indicates he would be far from averse to McLeish settling for a back four in Albania.

“On the park it felt a lot more solid,” he said. “We were restricting Portugal but more importantly we were causing them problems up top. I don’t know what the manager wants to do next but whatever we do we are going to work as hard as we can to do what this country is craving and that is to get back to the big time.

“It is not going to come overnight but we need to stick together and keep going.”