“YAAAAAAASSS!!!” – Scott McTominay | Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
When Luka Jovic’s header bounced up off the ground and into David Marshall’s net on Thursday night, no one felt it more than Scott McTominay.
Two decades of abject misery flashed before his eyes. Scotland were within seconds of finally making a major tournament, but a second was all it took for McTominay to switch off and lose his man. Jovic did the rest to send it to extra-time.
90′ | Goal Serbia. Jovic equalises.
Serbia 1-1 Scotland.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 12, 2020
It was a potentially career-ruining low for the 23-year-old, who would have been forgiven for going into hiding thereafter. But Steve Clarke has built his team around strength of character, and it soon became apparent why he has stuck by the Manchester United man for the right centre-back berth.
He was determined to atone for his earlier mistake. So much so that despite never having taken a penalty in his senior career, he scribbled his name down for third on the spot-kick list and stepped up to send Pedrag Rajkovic the wrong way.
It was patently obvious what it meant to him. Despite being born and raised in Lancaster and speaking with a strong northern English accent, he has been clear from day one that he has always wanted to play for Scotland. This wasn’t something for his CV, and that much was evident in his explosive celebration after sticking the ball in the the Serbia net.
Scotland making their first major tournament in 22 years meant everything to Scott McTominay ? pic.twitter.com/9qA2jeLRQf
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 12, 2020
His bottle contributed to another 100% shoot-out for the Scots, giving David Marshall the platform to deny Aleksandar Mitrovic as sudden death loomed. Within an hour he’d gone from national pariah to a legend in the making – all it took was a little guts and composure.
His successful penalty was justice for a performance that should not have been defined by one error. For 89 minutes, he was imperious, defensively aggressive, tidy in possession, and even channelled his inner Chris Basham to run beyond Stephen O’Donnell on occasion.
Some of my many thoughts about Scotland making the f*****g Euros. Worth it just for all the video content ???????? https://t.co/wjwBx1xKdq
— Robbie (@robacopeland) November 15, 2020
He has become a key part of the five-man defence that has turned Scotland from a joke into a European Championship team, and on Thursday, he pulled his weight in one of the best away international performances you’re ever likely to see.
There’s no telling what it could do for his career. It’s no surprise to hear some Scotland players, including Premier League winner Andy Robertson, praise Thursday’s win to the heavens as the high point of their careers so far, and there’s no reason to think that will be any different for McTominay.
Scotland have qualified for their first major tournament since 1998! ???????? pic.twitter.com/fbt9kDwQc8
— 90min (@90min_Football) November 12, 2020
He’ll return to United now with a spring in his step, high on confidence and uber-motivated by the carrot of a Euro 2020 starting spot dangling at the end of the stick. The best football of his career is still to come, and there is no reason to think it isn’t just around the corner.
It’s been clear since his United debut that McTominay is a quality player, but now he’s shown that he has the mentality to sustain his success at the very top. In Belgrade, he suffered the most crushing of blows, and still resolutely stood up when the pressure was on, making amends and cementing his place in history.
? We’re on our way from misery to happiness today… ?#NoScotlandNoParty pic.twitter.com/6UBSVYCThM
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) November 13, 2020
In many ways, McTominay typifies what Clarke’s rapidly evolving Scotland team is all about at this stage in its development. Unconventional, imperfect, and still some way from the finished article, but undeniably talented and impossible to keep down.