BY IAIN COLLIN –[email protected]_sport
AFTER such a long hold-up, the hat-tricks have arrived like overdue buses for Scotland.
And the man whose record stood for nearly five decades insists he was thrilled to see Robert Snodgrass become the latest to net an international treble.
Colin Stein’s feat as the last player to score a hat-trick in dark blue lasted 46 years – although he is quick to point out he actually bagged four in the 8-0 thrashing of Cyprus in a World Cup qualifier in May, 1969.
Steven Fletcher ended the wait for another Scotland treble with his three goals in the 6-1 hammering of Gibraltar in March last year.
Barely six months later, the former Hibernian, Wolves and Sunderland marksman was at it again, with another goal blitz in the return fixture in Gibraltar.
And, with his welcome trio of goals in Sunday night’s 5-1 victory over Malta, Snodgrass ensured Scotland have now celebrated hat-tricks three times in their last seven competitive matches.
Stein was delighted for the Hull City player and reckons the 28-year-old’s recent battle with injury – and the fact he was not fielded as a ‘striker’ – made it all the more special.
The 69-year-old told Capital City Press: “I know what it feels like to score a hat-trick for Scotland and it’s tremendous for him especially, with the bad time he’s had with injury.
“He’s had a sorry time, the lad, with his injuries and he’s just been getting back to playing every week, so this will have been a bonus.
“To come back and score a hat-trick for Scotland, I think that’s maybe the icing on the cake for him.
“It’s maybe not as big a deal this time because Steven Fletcher did it last year, but it’s always great to score a hat-trick for your country.
“And he’s not an out-and-out striker either, so maybe that makes it better that he’s done it.”
Stein, who scored nine times in 21 appearances for Scotland, was happy to see the national team get their campaign off to a flying start in the bid to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
He was impressed with his first sighting of Scotland’s most expensive player, Oliver Burke, and with the width offered by Matt Ritchie on the opposite flank.
But, with Auld Enemy England and Euro 2016 finalists Slovakia to come later in the qualifiers, Stein admits Gordon Strachan’s men could not have afforded any slip-ups in Malta.
The former Hibs, Rangers and Coventry City striker added: “We had to win the game and we haven’t enjoyed a good start to a campaign for a while, so it was great to see them winning.
“But these are the teams you’ve got to beat, really, because the harder ones will be coming along later in the campaign.”
• Snodgrass has become only the 30th player to net a hat-trick for Scotland.
The 28-year-old’s trio of strikes was the 38th time a Scotland player has scored three or more in an international fixture.
But, with the likes of Fletcher, Denis Law and Hughie Gallacher managing the feat more than once, Snodgrass joined an elite band of just 30 players who have donned the dark blue of their country.
John McDougall of Vale of Leven was the first to ever score a hat-trick in an international game when he netted a treble in Scotland’s 7-2 thrashing of England at Hampden in 1878.
And Snodgrass became only the 10th player to rack up the achievement since WWII when he helped get the country’s World Cup qualifying campaign off to a near-perfect start in Malta at the weekend.