Scotland assistant John Carver has challenged in-form Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland to use his late call-up for the final Euro 2024 qualifiers to stake his claim for a place in Germany next summer.
The Jambos captain has been drafted in by Steve Clarke after Southampton forward Che Adams became the latest high-profile absentee for this week’s campaign-concluding double-header against Georgia and Norway.
Shankland won the last of his five caps in the home win over Spain in March. However, after taking his tally for the season to 10 goals with five strikes in his last five matches – including a double in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Motherwell – he has been rewarded with a recall.
Carver believes Shankland should look towards Watford centre-back Ryan Porteous – now a regular starter – for inspiration as he comes in from the periphery.
“We got a call yesterday regarding Che having an issue with his groin,” said the Scotland assistant manager. “The good news for us is Lawrence popped up with a couple of goals at the weekend against Motherwell so he’s a player in form.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for him. In the past, we’ve had players who have stepped in at the last moment and taken their opportunity. I can use Ryan Porteous as one.
“We went to Ukraine having to get a point in the Nations League, Ryan stepped in (for his debut) and was outstanding, and he’s never looked back since. That happened for him and there’s an opportunity for Lawrence.
“He’s in good form, scoring goals for Hearts, which is important. He’ll want to be on that plane in the 23-man squad. It’s a competitive squad. We know what he can do, but this is an extra opportunity for him over the next seven days because he didn’t expect to be here.”
Lewis Ferguson has joined the squad on the back of a strong start to the campaign in Serie A, recently equalling Denis Law as the highest-scoring Scot in the Italian top flight, and Carver feels the 24-year-old has a chance of asserting himself as a regular starter for the national team by the time the Euros begins.
“It’s great,” he said of Ferguson’s form. “We have some young players pushing their way through and, in particular, Lewis had an extremely good game in Lille (against France last month).
“He’s one who is really developing, he’s playing in a physical league and he’s dealing with it really well. He could be one of the players who forces his way forward and gives Steve an even more difficult decision to make in terms of the opportunity to start (at the Euros).”
Scotland have generally had a fairly settled squad during Clarke’s reign, but Carver explained that no player should view themselves as either guaranteed to be in the squad or out of the picture for the Euros as there is still time for circumstances to change.
In the current squad, for instance, the absence of Adams means Scotland are effectively without five regular starters, with goalkeeper Angus Gunn and defenders Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Aaron Hickey also out injured.
“I’m sure Steve will have some sleepless nights from now until picking the squad but that’s what he wants, that’s why we’re in the game, we want to make difficult decisions,” said Carver.
“We want players to force the issue and make it even harder for us. There’s going to be disappointment at the end of it, but there is a long way to go from now until the championships.
“A lot of time will pass so players will get injured, players will come into form, but the decision will be made in the best interest of the team.”
Scotland sealed their place at the Euros last month but after losing their last three matches – friendlies against England and France either side of a qualifier away to Spain – Carver is adamant they will not be short of motivation.
“The desire’s there because we’ve lost three games in a row against top-quality opposition,” he said. “It was three of the top 10 sides in Europe so it’s been a great learning curve, but we want to get back to winning ways.
“We have to now press the reset button and go again. It’s great being in the position we’re in but the Euros is in the future, we have to attack the situation now and that is by getting six points in the next two games and making sure that just in case Spain slip up in their last two games, we are ready to take advantage.”
Goalkeepers: Zander Clark, Liam Kelly, Robby McCrorie.
Defenders: Liam Cooper, Josh Doig, Jack Hendry, Scott McKenna, Nathan Patterson, Ryan Porteous, Anthony Ralston, Greg Taylor.
Midfielders: Stuart Armstrong, Lewis Ferguson, Billy Gilmour, Ryan Jack, John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Kenny McLean, Scott McTominay.
Forwards: Jacob Brown, Ryan Christie, Lyndon Dykes, Lawrence Shankland.
Scotland’s upcoming fixtures
November 16: Georgia (a), Euro 2024 qualifier, kick-off 5pm
November 19: Norway (h), Euro 2024 qualifier, kick-off 7.45pm