GAME OF PATIENCE PAYS OFF AT LAST FOR JACK Rangers star is ready to stake his claim for a regular start as Scots prepare for play-offs
TWO years on from making his senior international debut, Ryan Jack hopes his Scotland career is finally beginning. A first start in his regular role felt like a landmark moment for the central midfielder who has so impressed in Rangers colours this season.
Slotting in beside Callum McGregor in national boss Steve Clarke’s 4-2-3-1 shape, Jack gave an assured performance in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Cyprus in Nicosia.
The 27-year-old was used as right-back by interim manager Malky Mackay when winning a debut cap in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Holland in November 2017.
That was an experience marred by booing from a section of fans at Pittodrie in the wake of his move to Ibrox.
Then, under Alex McLeish, came a substitute appearance in last year’s friendly rout at the hands of Belgium. Jack was introduced to the Hampden mauling with a suffering Scotland already 3-0 down.
Further complications arrived this term. Going straight from an recognised recently with an improved contract that runs until 2023, underlining his status as a key part of Gerrard’s plans.
Doubling the Ibrox club’s quest for silverware with a place in Clarke’s Euro 2020 bid has the potential to turn this into the campaign of his dreams.
‘That’s what I am hoping for, that it’s a successful season,’ he continued. ‘Everything is going well so far.
‘Club level has been very good. I have been doing well in Europe and now I’ve got a start for my country after being called up.
‘Getting the win was great but in football you know everything can turn very quickly. You can’t rest on it. It’s about more hard work and keeping things going.
‘Growing up, you always want to play for your country. You see the games at Hampden when there are full houses and the atmosphere that creates.
‘You want to be part of it and I’m always proud to be involved. But we can’t get carried away by anything now. We have won two on the bounce, but we want to go three and then try to get Scotland to a major tournament, which would be a great achievement.’
Jack’s natural discipline and defensive awareness could be valuable to a team who are still too easy to cut open. Those are qualities also attributed to Scott McTominay, so does Jack see it as him against the Manchester United midfielder — currently sidelined — for a guardian role?
‘Not at all,’ he countered. ‘If you look at the midfield there is talent right through it. Kenny McLean and Scott McTominay are out with injuries. Then you have myself, Callum, John McGinn, John Fleck, Stuart Armstrong. The list is endless because there is so much talent in the one position.
‘Every time I get a chance, I just want to stake a claim. That’s all I can do. I’m sure the other boys are the same when they play. We are all working for the same goal and want to get to a major tournament.’
To do so, Scotland will have to maintain the positive aspects seen in Nicosia from middle to front, while somehow finding a tougher central defensive core.
Jack dovetailed neatly beside McGregor at the midfield base. Being on the same side as his Old
Firm rival was actually a case of turning back the clock.
‘I’ve played with Callum before for the Under-21s,’ he recalled. ‘It was good. I enjoyed playing with everyone, to be honest. I felt we dug in well when we had to and showed a bit of resilience.
‘It was obviously a tough night and a tough test, but it was job done and we got the win we wanted. First half, we did well. Second half, they scored and that was a bit of a sickener but we showed a great attitude to come back and get in front again.
‘The manager did say that if we face adversity we have to stand up to it. We did that.
‘The gaffer has been really good with me. It’s all positive and we are now looking to take that into Tuesday night.’
Determined: Ryan Jack (main) and (above) in action during Scotland’s win over Cyprus at the weekend
Well done: Ryan Jack is a vital cog in Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side