He has been irrepressible since moving to Queens Park Rangers last summer and the latest reward, beyond the goals and the sense of esteem, is likely to be a call-up to Craig Levein’s Scotland squad today.
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Although born in Surrey, Mackie qualifies through a grandfather from Kilmarnock. The goals – eight in nine Championship matches – are the flourish to a talent that has always been firmly earnest and gritty.
At 5ft 8in, Mackie is not physically imposing and managers have often demanded that he attack from wide positions, but his application is unstinting. Quick and industrious, the 25-year-old is a tireless figure and will bring the qualities that Levein so prizes of workrate and commitment.
“He’s hard-working, a good professional, doesn’t drink, takes good rest. Just because he works so hard, he’s getting better and better every year,” says Mathias Doumbe, the former Hibernian defender who played with Mackie at Plymouth Argyle, his previous club. “The supporters loved him, because at Plymouth they really like players who work hard for the team. I knew he would score goals this season. Knowing him and how he works, he can be a really big asset for Scotland. He’s quite young, so in two or three years he can be a really good player.”
Mackie’s scoring record this season is impressive and he struck twice on his debut for Plymouth. But he has never been considered prolific before – 19 goals in 87 games for Exeter City, 16 in 98 for Plymouth – and the wonder is if this sudden burst of effectiveness is temporary or the result of now performing alongside better players.
“Maybe sometimes he had difficulty with his finishes, but because he worked so much on it, I’m not surprised that he now finishes quite well,” says Doumbe. “Before, he was missing some chances just because of focus or quality, but now he scores a lot more goals than he used to. I thought he was ready to play at a higher level. In training, he was really annoying to defend against because he was always running after you and putting pressure on you. He’s quite fast as well.”
Mackie cost QPR £150,000 during the summer, a fee that will rise to £500,000 if the club is promoted, and manager Neil Warnock was keen to sign the striker after he caused his Crystal Palace defence to become angst-ridden when he was in charge at Selhurst Park last season.
Paul Sturrock once described Mackie as one of the “nuggets from the lower leagues” that he brought to Plymouth as an act of faith. It has taken the player, who began his career at Wimbledon, several years to become established, and although he may not be brilliantly inventive or refined, it is his worth as a solid, reliable player in the midst of a fine run of form that Levein covets.
With James McFadden injured and Kris Boyd likely to be dropped, the squad needs an option in attack. Warnock likened one of Mackie’s headed goals, against Leicester City, this season to one that Nat Lofthouse might score. The comparison is generous to the striker, but he will bring adaptability and a hard-earned spirit to the Scotland squad. They are not qualities that are lacking, but they will complement the current players.