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Raising a glass to an unknown quantity

HE is feted in Brighton, he was toasted in Peterborough, but Craig Mackail-Smith knows he could walk through the centre of Glasgow without turning a head.

Craig Mackail-Smith  could play as a lone striker in the matches against Leichtenstein and Spain should Kenny Miller fail to recover from injury. Picture:PA
Craig Mackail-Smith could play as a lone striker in the matches against Leichtenstein and Spain should Kenny Miller fail to recover from injury. Picture:PA

This relative anonymity, of course, could change over the course of the next week.

The 27-year-old striker will be scanning the medical updates on Kenny Miller with increasing interest. If the Cardiff City striker’s groin strain proves persistent, then Mackail-Smith is in line to play against Liechtenstein on Saturday and Spain on Tuesday as Scotland make a final, desperate tilt at a play-off place for Euro 2012.

Mackail-Smith, a product of St Albans City and who has played for such as Dagenham and Redbridge and Arlesley Town, is comfortable about his low profile in his adopted homeland. “If I walked down Buchanan Street, I don’t think people would know me,’’ he said. “But if I walked down the street in Brighton, it would probably be the same.’’

Mackail-Smith was being modest about his status in the seaside town. He has scored five goals for the club since his £3m move in the summer and is en route to replicating the adulation he received at Peterborough where his relentless goalscoring was celebrated by the production of a local beer, Craig Mack-Ale. He is now intent on making an impression for his country after two appearances in friendlies. The striker was in line to start the game against Lithuania but pulled out with a back injury. Now, he waits on a verdict on Miller’s fitness.

‘‘If Kenny doesn’t make it then, hopefully, I will get the call. I feel as if I can go in and do a job for the team,’’ he said. “I’ve had a little taste of it so far. I came on against Brazil and Denmark, but with more time I can show people I am capable of playing at this level. I am an unknown quantity to a lot of people up here as I haven’t had many games. Hopefully, that will change in the next few games and I can score a few goals and get noticed.’’

Mackail-Smith has been categorised as a speedy and willing runner. There is, however, more to his game. ‘‘I have improved since moving to Brighton. I went into the Championship a few seasons ago and probably wasn’t quite ready. I had a lot to learn but went back to League One last season and worked on a lot of things. Brighton play a different style to Peterborough so I’ve had improve my touch and movement,’’ he said. “I feel I’m better-equipped to play as a lone striker for Scotland.”

Gus Poyet, the Brighton coach, has been supportive of Mackail-Smith’s international career and see it as a means to develop the forward’s play.

The striker has no fears about taking his chance in the international arena. “I go out there and put everything into the game. I give my heart and soul when I go out on that pitch and I do everything I can. But the boys who haven’t played much have a point to prove. I want to be playing, I want to do well and go out there and score goals and help Scotland qualify.”

This was spoken with the true fervour of a patriot but Mackail-Smith only qualifies for Scotland through his grandmother, who hails from Edinburgh. ‘‘My family love this, they are over the moon,’’ he said. ‘‘Even though my dad was not born in Scotland he sees himself as a Scotsman and he loves the fact I play for Scotland – he’s very proud. When I played against Brazil, I got a shirt and I sent it to my grandma.’’

He still believes Scotland can qualify for the European Championships. “It’s not gone until it’s mathematically impossible. We need to go and beat Liechtenstein and we are still in with a chance. You have to believe we can still do it,’’ he said.

“We have a great squad here and, yes, it will be tough. Liechtenstein have done well in the group against Lithuania and others but we just have to get the three points. Then we’ll go into the Spain game knowing what we need. They are two fantastic games to be playing in and I would like to be a part of it, to help Scotland get second place.”

He will not even consider the price of failure. ‘‘I’m here experiencing every minute and enjoying every minute,’’ he said. Of his possible selection for the Liechtenstein match, he added: ‘‘I will go out on Saturday and give all I can and, hopefully, we will get the right result out of it. All I can do is do myself proud and see what comes of that. But we have a good chance and if we work hard and do the right things we can get the right result.”

Mackail-Smith was Poyet’s primary target during the summer transfer window and Brighton’s Uruguayan manager was delighted to secure a player who has already made a contribution to Brighton’s cause in the npower Championship. Mackail-Smith was considered by Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers before Poyet made the decisive move to secure his services.

“There was talk of the Premiership but nothing came of it,’’ he said. ‘‘If I’d had the opportunity I would have gone. There was talk of Rangers, as well. I’d have definitely considered it but it was only rumours.’’

If that move had come off, he certainly would have been recognised in Buchanan Street.

interview He may be relatively anonymous is Scotland, but Mackail-Smith hopes to prove a refreshing alternative. Hugh MacDonald reports

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