Lawrence Shankland thinks the lessons he learned during his ill-fated Aberdeen spell have helped propel him to the national team.
The 24-year-old striker netted on his first Scotland start, with Steve Clarke’s side dispatching San Marino 6-0 at a soaking Hampden in their dead-rubber Euro 2020 qualifier.
Shankland, who was on the Dons’ books between 2013 and 2017, has scored 15 times for Championship Dundee United this term, after 63 strikes in two seasons at Ayr United.
In contrast, the now in-demand attacker couldn’t find the net in 17 appearances for Derek McInnes’s Reds.
Shankland, who joined Aberdeen from Queen’s Park aged 17, admits his lack of fitness was among the issues for him in the Granite City.
He said: “I was a young boy at Aberdeen and probably wasn’t really ready for that level at the time.
“It happens. Sometimes you take a step maybe too far than you should have.
“I went away, worked hard and it’s got me here. Fingers crossed, it keeps going like that.”
After loan spells at Dunfermline, St Mirren (twice) and Morton, Shankland was let go by the Dons.
He says his outlook about the levels he could reach changed at that point, as he considered leaving the game all together.
Did he really believe he could play for his country one day?
Shankland said: “I was going to go and get another job, so not particularly.
“Thankfully Ayr United came calling and gave me a great opportunity – I had to take it, it was kind of last-chance saloon.
“It’s been a crazy two years, really, when you think about it and getting my first two international caps and a goal, I can only really be proud of that.”
After a substitute appearance in the 4-0 defeat in Russia that mathematically ended Scotland’s hopes of automatic Euro 2020 qualification from Group I, Shankland was pitched in from the start by Steve Clarke against minnows San Marino.
He said: “It’s a bit of a dream, to be honest. (John) McGinn said that to me before the game: ‘If two weeks ago somebody had said you’d be number nine for Scotland, you wouldn’t have believed them, would you?’
“He was probably right!
“I just had to enjoy it. I knew the kind of game it would be, with a lot of the ball. I just needed to be in and around the box and enjoy the night.”
Shankland was granted the simplest of finishes for his first Scotland goal. A Scott McTominay effort from range dropped right to the striker in behind the defence and he simply had to roll the ball into the net.
He said: “It was a great feeling. I was following big Scotty’s shot and anticipated it might not go in.
“I don’t know if I was hoping it came back to me or not, but I got myself in the position and thankfully it bounced right to me and I managed to stick it away.
“I was just thinking, ‘please don’t be offside’, because I’d obviously run quite early.”
With the likes of Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths and Sheffield United’s Oli McBurnie to come back into the Scotland fold, Shankland – playing in the second tier of Scottish football – could face a fight to retain his spot for the final Group I games in Cyprus and at home to Kazakhstan.
He knows what he needs to do, saying: “I need to try to keep up the form that got me in this squad. When the next one comes round, all going well, you’re back involved.”
Boss Clarke has made clear, regardless of the squad, what is expected of his Scotland charges as they build towards their final Euro 2020 qualification chance, a Nations League-earned play-off in March.
He wants a third-place finish in Group I – they now sit fourth behind Belgium, Russia and next opponents Cyprus – and they must win in Cyprus then exorcise the demons of their away loss in Kazakhstan at Hampden next month.
Shankland said: “It’s all building towards the play-off games in March and we want to finish as high as we can in the group. It’s just building momentum.”