The shape of things to come

Nathan Patterson's move to Everton last week provoked a thought: remember there was a time when the Scotland national team had a crisis at right back? It's a little more than three years since the legendary Danny McGrain suggested that the answer to those positional problems should be solved by Kieran Tierney training up his standing leg – just as McGrain did – and shimmying across the park to the other flank.

In McGrain's day, there were any number of high-quality starters to choose from on either side of the pitch including the likes of Sandy Jardine, Maurice Malpas, George Burley and Stuart Kennedy.

Of course those comments came three and a bit years ago and they sound a tad outmoded now but there is mitigation. For a start, the Celtic legend couldn't possibly have known that there were a couple of right-backs making rapid progress in the academies at Rangers and Aberdeen, primed to announce themselves on the Scottish stage in 2021. Nor could he have foreseen just how quickly the attributes for playing the role would change in such a short period of time. Better coaching at academy level has ensured better technique. The by-product has been more technically adroit players who started out as wingers moving back down the pitch as the game itself and tactical advances have demanded more in an attacking sense from those playing in the position.

Tierney and Andy Robertson started out as talented wingers with speed and good ability and the pair have made the position a more fashionable one to play.

With positive results, too. Patterson has surely cemented his position as the starting full back for Steve Clarke's side with his move to Everton, while Calvin Ramsey might make a late charge for a World Cup squad place should Scotland get there, of course, and should he depart Pittodrie during the January window with Liverpool Manchester United and Leicester City all watching, there are those in the know who have suggested the Aberdeen full back might even be Patterson's superior.

Alas, it is not all moonlight and roses. The queue of centre-forwards lining up to join the national team is considerably smaller – a scenario which Malky Mackay, the former SFA performance director told me last year was explained by the outcome of another trend: the preponderance of young kids wanting to play as a No.10 and the number of coaches pushing them to do so.

Stewart on the up

One player who might be capable of immediately providing competition in the Scotland attack for Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams is the Sunderland striker Ross Stewart. The 25-year-old, who six years ago was playing for Kilwinning Rangers in the juniors, took his tally to 17 for the season with two goals in his side's 3-3 draw at Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday, has been watched on several occasions by Scotland scouts as he has emerged as one of the best strikers plying their trade outside of England's top two divisions and must be an outside contender to be named in Steve Clarke's squad for the World Cup play-off against Ukraine in March.

If the words of Gareth Ainsworth – a man who played in the Premier League for Wimbledon in the late 90s – are anything to go by then it won't be long before Stewart, dubbed the Loch Ness Drogba by Sunderland fans, could be making a step up. "Ross Stewart is a hell of a player," said the Wycombe manager. "He'll go on to huge, huge things. That was a learning curve for some of my defenders."

Robinson's efforts have not gone unnoticed

Stephen Robinson, the Morecambe manager once of this parish, was asked by a prominent English broadcaster – who may or may not share his name with a large Canadian deer – prior to Morecambe's FA Cup third round trip to Tottenham if the fixture would be his biggest game as a manager.

The Northern Irishman was quick to set the record straight and swiftly reminded his interlocutor that he had been involved in a Scottish Cup final, a League Cup final, finished in third place in the SPFL, taken his team to Ibrox, Celtic Park and Hampden and secured a place in the Europa League during his time in charge of Motherwell.

English exceptionalism when it comes to Scottish football – and perceptions about the paucity of the game here remains as strong as ever – despite increasing interest in the SPFL's best players and young talents from bargain-seeking Premier League clubs.

McGill turns the volume up

Anthony McGill gave a worrying glimpse into what's currently repeat-playing on his Spotify during press duties in the run up to last night's encounter at the Cazoo Masters against Neil Robertson.

Revealing that he has been inspired to start spin classes by the efforts of well-known fitness fanatic John Higgins, McGill detailed the depth of his passion.

“The instructors really get you buzzed up, it’s brilliant. I wasn’t feeling too good about myself so I started it and they are so good. “I love Swedish House Mafia. They do Flo Rida Club Can’t Handle Me Right Now,” added McGill, who revealed last month that he almost died in a car crash after hitting a puddle whilst driving at 100mph. “I love it. Absolutely love it. You should try them, they are incredible. It’s like going to a nightclub.”

Next week: Graeme Dott on his love of death metal?

Rangers not the only club missing out

Plenty has already been made of Joe Aribo's participation at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon this month and next and what it might mean for Rangers to go without the in-form midfielder for the duration of Nigeria's time in the tournament.

But at least Aribo is likely to play for his country at the finals and his absence comes at a time when the top-flight is in shutdown, albeit he will miss February's Old Firm derby. Championship side Hamilton have lost their joint-second leading scorer, the Zimbabwean, David Moyo, for the next fortnight while League 1 Alloa Athletic have been shorn of starting centre-back Fernandy Mendy who will play for Guinea-Bissau. Both sides are in relegation trouble and will no doubt feel the absences much more keenly than Rangers will.


The number of games Arbroath went without defeat prior to Saturday's reverse at Ayr United. Their previous loss – 2-1 at the hands of Raith Rovers at Stark's Park – came in the middle of October. Next up for Arbroath? Raith at Stark's Park.