Matt Phillips: Hasselbaink advice will help me to lead line

Matt Phillips during Scotland training at the Oriam, Edinburgh.
Matt Phillips during Scotland training at the Oriam, Edinburgh.
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With no goals from his eight appearances for Scotland so far, Matt Phillips may appear an underwhelming choice to lead the line against Netherlands at Pittodrie tomorrow night.

But if, as expected, the West Bromwich Albion winger is handed that role by interim Scotland boss Malky Mackay, then he will look to draw on advice from a prolific former Dutch international forward.

Phillips worked under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Queen’s Park Rangers where he had experience of playing as a central striker.

“Jimmy taught me to be a bit more off the cuff,” recalled Phillips. “He didn’t tell me so much what I had to do, he just liked the fact that I naturally liked to run in behind defences and that I was quick. That meant a ball over the top was always an option. Even when I’m out wide, I can be good with my back towards goal. I’m still learning and improving, so this would be another chance for me to do that.

“Jimmy still had the ability of a top striker when he took part in training with us at QPR. If I can add that to my armoury, it would be something extra and nice to have. I’ve got the physical size and, as I say, I always try to run in behind from the wide positions anway. I had a brief chat with Malky about playing up front. I’ve played there on a few occasions - I did it for Neil Warnock at QPR, as well as for Jimmy – but never regularly. I’ve always generally been a wide man but I’m delighted to play anywhere along the front line.

“It’s nice to be in the reckoning to start the game. That’s massive for me. Anywhere up front, I’m happy and I’ll give my all. I’ve not scored yet for Scotland and it’s something I’m looking to do. I just need to learn from the manager what he would like me to do in that position and I’m delighted to be in his thoughts for this game.”

Phillips started the last four matches of Scotland’s unsuccessful bid to reach the 2018 World Cup Finals which spelled the end of Gordon Strachan’s time in charge of the national team.

The 26-year-old was disappointed to see Strachan depart but remains fully committed to holding down a place in the Scotland side.

“I definitely didn’t want to be left out of this squad,” added Phillips. “There has been a change of manager but this is a chance to start building for the new campaign.

“There will be more friendlies and whoever the manager is at the time we all want to be involved. I want to stake my claim for the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

“Missing out on the World Cup play-offs was a massive blow. We all believed we could win in Slovenia, so it was a huge disappointment. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the team towards the end of the campaign and everyone responded really well to Gordon and gave 100 per cent for him.

“A few of my team-mates at West Brom are in the play-offs this week, with Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. I wish them all the best but it’s hard to watch them go into those games while we miss out. We came close and we just have to take it as a positive going into the next campaign.”

Phillips’ campaign at domestic level has also hit a rut. He hasn’t started a match for West Brom since the end of September. Tony Pulis’ side are without a win in their last nine Premier League games and are just one point above the relegation zone.

“It’s been a bit up and down for me,” said Phillips. “I found myself out the team the last few games and that’s disappointing. But if I keep working hard my time will come.”