The club career of Matt Phillips has taken off in the past six years as the wide man has gone from being a bit-part player with Blackpool in the English Championship to an integral performer for Premier League side West Bromwich Albion. In that time his Scotland career has never really got off the ground.
The 26-year-old’s debut for the country of his grandparents arrived months later than anticipated because of an injury-forced withdrawal. It meant he ended up making his first Scotland appearance in the horrendous humping by the USA, a 5-1 friendly loss in May 2012 that did Craig Levein’s reputation as national manager no favours. It didn’t help Phillips’ Scotland prospects much and the circumstances surrounding it typify his misfortunes at this level.
“Yeah, it was really disappointing to go over to America and get beat the way we did, especially on my first start,” he said. “For myself there was also the Championship final loss as well that summer [Blackpool denied promotion by West Ham the week before]. It was a long time ago and now is definitely the time to get myself into the international scene more regularly.”
Phillips has earned only three caps since, yet might be currently considered the top performing player available to Gordon Strachan. The problem is that he hasn’t always been available, with last season cut short by hamstring injury as his club form was soaring. It cost him the opportunity to face the nation of his birth, with Phillips having to watch the thrilling draw with England from his couch. He will hope to make more of an impact in Lithuania on Friday and the second game in a must-win World Cup qualifying double-header that brings Malta to Hampden a week on Monday.
“Whether it’s been injuries or a loss of form, the last five years have been very stop-start,” Phillips said. “I said the last time I was in the national squad that it was time I had a run [and make sure I was] keep getting in the squad and getting some more caps to my name.
“The England game was massive. I wasn’t that far away from getting into that. I was hoping to make the last game for my club but I broke down a bit. I wasn’t ready. I haven’t done anything really with the national side, just a couple of appearances here and there so the last thing I wanted to do was come up here for the England game half fit and let everyone down, myself and my family. Now I’m fit, I’m feeling good and I’m delighted to be being back in there.”