Houston tips young players to ensure end-of-season zest
PETER HOUSTON was there four years ago as Scotland withered in the sweltering Florida heat.
The then-national team coach watched on helplessly as Craig Levein’s side flopped to a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA, a game that was the beginning of the end of the Scotland manager’s tenure before he was sacked less than five minutes later.
That fixture in Jacksonville took place ahead of a European Championships that Scotland once again found themselves on the outside of, and four years on Gordon Strachan’s group find themselves in a similar scenario.
They go into tomorrow’s challenge match with Italy in Malta on the back of a long, hard season knowing they are still more than three months away from their next spate of competitive action when they return to the Ta’Qali Stadium to face the Maltese national team in their opening World Cup qualifying campaign.
However, despite history providing a warning for the current Scotland manager ahead of this evening’s friendly, Falkirk manager Houston, who was named Ladbrokes Championship Manager of the Year this week, believes the current group of Scotland players will be desperate to make an impression going into the summer.
While the starting XI of four years ago was filled with first-team regulars such as Gary Caldwell, Scott Brown, Shaun Maloney and Kenny Miller, the team that faces Italy this weekend is likely to include fringe players such as Callum Pater son, Stephen Kingsley, John McGinn and Barrie McKay.
“One thing I’ll never do is criticise the boys who were with us that day or on that trip,” said Houston. “It happened, I know it happened. “But with the freshness in the squad and the changes in the squad, players are getting an opportunity and when that happens sometimes you go at it a bit harder to try and stay in there.
“It happened with Andy Robertson when Gordon first went in, he just trained with them and did enough to keep himself involved.
“So guys like Kingsley and others who are going to get that opportunity might be that little bit more motivated to show the manager they are good enough to be playing at that level.
“Whereas it might be a little bit more difficult to motivate more experienced players, and we have said that during the season as well when there is nothing to play for. You saw that with Rangers losing to a few teams towards the end of the season. Why? Because the motivation they had to win the league wasn’t there anymore.
“Sometimes that can happen whether it is international players or club players or whoever.
“I understand where Mark McGhee is coming from, but hopefully I think what he has got in his favour is he’ll have younger players there who will be desperate to try and make sure they’ll be involved in the World Cup qualifiers when the squads get picked.”
The Falkirk manager is right to acknowledge Kingsley, a graduate of his club’s youth academy.
The full back came through the ranks at the Scottish side before leaving for Swansea City in 2014, before going on to make his debut with the Welsh side as well as enjoy loan spells with Yeovil Town and Crewe Alexandra.
Following his Swansea debut in January and his maiden Barclays Premier League appearance in March, he now has the chance to top off a memorable season with his first-ever cap. “He’s a lovely lad,” said Houston. “One of the first things I had to do when I came in was to say cheerio to him.
“It was pre-season I came in and he was getting a flight the next day, but he’s been up for a couple of games.
“The great thing for the boy Kingsley is that he’s made a competitive debut, which tells you people trust him at Swansea to play him at that standard, then Gordon has given him a wee opportunity and he might get on the pitch. “It’s fantastic for the lad. “It tells me that since he went down there he’s getting to a stage where they’re not frightened to play him. It says a lot about the club and about him.”
With the changes in the squad, players are getting an opportunity and when that happens sometimes you go at it a bit harder to try and stay in there
FRESH FACE: Full-back Stephen Kingsley is eyeing a Scotland debut