Chic Charnley was not, contrary to some forecasts, named in Craig Brown's squad for next Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Belarus. Yet it is probably fair to say that, in his 35th year, he has never been closer. With Gary McAllister struggling against injury, a continuation of Charnley's explosive form at Easter Road on Saturday might just have had Brown thinking the unthinkable.
Instead, the Hibernian playmaker endured what his manager, Jim Duffy, described as "his poorest game for us" and was snuffed out by the unsung Colin Cameron. An afternoon that began with fans bowing before Charnley ended with his substitution as Heart of Midlothian maintained their capital dominance with a deserved 1-0 victory.
Brown knows better than to judge any player on one match. But Charnley, performing under pressure for arguably the first time this season, could create neither the time nor the space he needed to validate the claims that he is a throwback to the era when Jim Baxter strutted his majestic stuff.
There is, nevertheless, no doubt about the lavish skills of James Callaghan Charnley, or indeed that big clubs have admired if not coveted him. Billy McNeill, when he was manager of Celtic, was heard to sigh as Charnley, a lifelong supporter, walked by: "If only talent was enough."
All too often, a talent for self-destruction has prevailed. There have been 16 sendings-off, four in one season with St Mirren. Some stemmed from a trait which also afflicted Eric Cantona - to use the vernacular of his native Glasgow, he cannae tackle a fish supper - while on other occasions he has "lost the heid" on being provoked.
Then there are the altercations with team-mates, the most recent signalling the end of his sojourn at Dundee. Nor is the legend confined to the match context: Charnley once famously gave chase through a park to three men, one wielding a sword, who mysteriously sought him out at a Partick Thistle training session.
Sometimes he has encouraged the "mental" image in a manner that makes Paul Gascoigne look a model of mature judgement, notably when he posed for photos in a straightjacket. Invited to guest for Celtic in a testimonial at Manchester United, he reputedly dismayed the then manager, Lou Macari, by travelling down by car with fellow fans and turning up with his boots in a plastic bag.
Duffy, his captain at Partick and manager at Dundee, is, according to one press-box cynic, "under the illusion that he can control Chic". He was, however, shrewd enough to put Charnley on a contract whereby his pay is slashed should he be suspended.
There was no sign of his molten temper against Hearts, despite being cut down early on by Steve Fulton. Sadly for an expectant support, who had fantasised that making the Premier Division running might be the prelude to Hibs' first championship since 1952, the Charnley who scored from the halfway line against Alloa and 25 yards against Celtic was also missing.
Neil McCann, himself a reminder of the days when the Scots had wingers to spare, dashed their hopes with a fine early goal set up by Cameron and the imposing defender David Weir.
Hibs' Trinidadian, Tony Rougier, also looked a potential match-winner on the flanks. To Duff's anger, his players ignored instructions to feed him the ball. If Charnley was, by implication, the main culprit, his mentor was at least consoled that he had not hidden: "Tactically, they shut Chic down, but his biggest problem was that he wanted the ball so much."
Hearts' manager, Jim Jefferies, paid Charnley the compliment of suggesting that stifling him was the key to success. "He's great when he's got the ball, but if you work him he'll tire. He's not the best at picking up people, so we got Cameron to make runs off him. That made the difference."
Would-be Baxters are as scarce as Tory MPs in Scotland, though Brown is wont to point out that they never qualified for any major finals when "characters" abounded. If that other loose cannon, Duncan Ferguson, cannot make his squad, Charnley would seem to have no chance.
As for Edinburgh's title prospects, few in the Scottish game doubt that the eventual winners will be one of the Old Firm. A crowd of 33,800 for Saturday's meeting of Rangers and Celtic reserves, more than twice the number who watched the chastening of Chic, provided a vivid illustration of why Glasgow's supremacy is likely to continue.
Goal: McCann (7) 0-1.
Hibernian (4-4-2): Gottskalksson; Miller, Dods, Hughes, Adjovi-Boco; Rougier, McGinlay, Charnley (Harper, 77), Dow; Crawford, Lavety (Power, 70). Substitute not used: McCaffrey.
Heart of Midlothian (4-3-3): Rousset; McManus, Weir, Ritchie, Pointon (Flogel, 88); Frail (Salvatori, 73), Cameron, Fulton; Adam, Robertson (Hamilton, 90), McCann.
Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell). Bookings: Hearts: Pointon, Ritchie.
Man of the match: Cameron.
Attendance: 15,550.Reuse content