Hous­ton tips young play­ers to en­sure end-of-sea­son zest

The Herald - Herald Sport - - ITALY V SCOTLAND - SCOTT MULLEN

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

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