Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson has been praised for his contribution to Scotland’s World Cup qualifying bid.
The 22-year-old did not get any game time in the back to back Group F victories over Israel and Faroe Islands this month.
However national boss Steve Clarke insists players like Ferguson who did not feature played key roles in the wins that put Scotland into pole position for the play-offs.
That is because Ferguson and the others have had to take on the role of playing like Israel and Faroe Islands to get Clarke’s starting XI up to speed.
Clarke also insists the presence of players like rising talent Ferguson who are not guaranteed starts yet has been fundamental to the strong team spirit within the squad.
That bond and unity appears to have taken Scotland to the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Should the Scots see off minnows Moldova away next month, 180th in the FIFA World rankings, Clarke’s squad will seal a play-off spot in March.
Clarke said: “The most important part of the squad is the ones who don’t start, who don’t play.
“They are the ones who are getting the bib in training and asked: ‘Can you do this for us tactically in the training session? Can you be like Israel? Can you be like the Faroes?
“These are the players we rely on for the squad spirit.
“It is easy to be a great member of the squad when the head coach is picking you every match.
“The other ones are the ones who keep the squad together, who keep the spirit up.”
All ‘star names’ in squad for Clarke
Ferguson made his Scotland debut when introduced late on in the 2-0 loss to runaway Group leaders Denmark in Copenhagen last month.
Clarke underlined his faith in the Aberdeen midfielder by again taking him off the bench in the defeat of play-off rivals Austria in Vienna.
Scotland were 1-0 up but Austria were pushing on to secure an equaliser.
Clarke took Ferguson on to help the Scots see out the victory.
The national boss insists there is so much hard work behind the scenes from the players that are, for now, not commanding a start for their country.
A lot of people get the big, big headlines, the ones who people might deem to be star names.
“To me they’re all star names.”
Scotland manager Steve Clarke
Since taking over the Scotland squad in May 2019 former Kilmarnock boss Clarke has fostered a team spirit akin to a club culture.
Again Clarke insists players like Ferguson, who do not get the starts or the attention at international level at the moment, are key to that spirit.
He said: “A lot of people get the big, big headlines, the ones who people might deem to be star names.
“To me they’re all star names.
“Andy Robertson gets it (attention) because he’s the captain. John McGinn gets it because he scores lots of goals. (Lyndon) Dykes gets it for different reasons – scoring goals and missing penalties.
“All these players come together and that grows your squad, your group of players. It’s really important.”
Ferguson the only Don in Scots’ squad
Capped twice at senior level prior to the Group F double header Ferguson was the only Aberdeen player named in Clarke’s squad for the games against Israel and Faroe Islands.
The midfielder admitted he feared losing his place in the international squad for the World Cup qualifiers due to Aberdeen’s crash in form with no wins in nine games in all competitions.
Proud to be included in this squad 🏴 https://t.co/A0qlCM69Yh
— lewis ferguson (@lewisferguson7) August 25, 2021
Centre back Andy Considine, capped three times, is sidelined until early next year following cruciate ligament surgery on an injury suffered in the 1-0 Europa Conference League play-off first leg loss to Qarabag in Azerbaijan.
Centre back Declan Gallagher, capped eight times, was not selected by Clarke as he has failed to command a first team start at Aberdeen.
Gallagher was in the squad for the qualifiers against Austria and Moldova last month but did not get game time.
Another Dons centre-back Mikey Devlin, capped three times, is out with a long term injury and has not played for Aberdeen this season.
Clarke said: “You have got to remember I just borrow these players.
“I borrow them for 10 days, at the moment every month.
“Then you go into the winter and I don’t see them in December, January, February. I get them together in March.
“The fact we can keep that bond and keep that togetherness is really important.
“If you want to be successful then the better the group of players and the more together they are then the better your chances.”
Staying on the path to the play-offs
The target for Ferguson, who netted in the 2-1 loss to Celtic prior to the international break, is to continue to impress at club level to remain in Clarke’s plans.
Scotland face Moldova away and Denmark at home next month to conclude the Group F qualifying campaign.
Clarke hopes they will have a play-off spot secured for March.
He said: ” Everything we have done so far has been on the park to try and get to the play-offs.
“Obviously at the start of the section we want to be first.
“Realistically now we can’t be first, so we want to be second.
“We have to stay on that path. If we get second then we are in the play-offs.”