Football: Durrant makes grade at last

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IAN DURRANT did not have far go to check into a Scottish luxury hotel on the fringe of Edinburgh when he received an SOS to help out Craig Brown's injury-stricken team against Estonia.

The Kilmarnock midfielder was playing golf at Dalmahoy Country Club on Tuesday afternoon when he heard of his inclusion. The next day, his car was snaking up the driveway of the exclusive retreat, but this time with a bag containing clothes, instead of clubs.

Durrant could rarely have been said to have had the rub on the green during his ill-fated career blighted by a knee injury 10 years ago, but for once fortune had favoured him. While Scotland's midfielders were dropping out Durrant stayed the course.

Brown, deprived of regulars such as John Collins, Paul Lambert, Craig Burley and Barry Ferguson, as well all his back-up midfielders, turned to the forgotten man.

Now, after a four-year international exile, the most unfulfilled Scottish talent of his generation will have the chance to show at Tynecastle a glimpse of what might have been.

The 32-year-old has enjoyed a renaissance since his move during the summer from his Ibrox to Rugby Park. Extended viewings of the talents which once prompted Graeme Souness to predict that Durrant could inherit the former Rangers and Liverpool manager's mantle in Serie A.

Durrant really was that good. Capped at the age of 20, but his career was to all intents and purposes, over two years later. A horrendous tackle for Aberdeen's Neil Simpson snapped a cruciate ligament and although the damage eventually healed two years later, the mental scars did not.

Craig Brown has little need to rake his memory of what Durrant was capable of. The Scotland coach oversaw his development while in charge of the Under-21 side in the late 80s.

"One occasion I recall vividly was against England in 1988 in the quarter- finals of the European Championships at the City Ground in Nottingham," he said.

"Paul Gascoigne was playing against us but I was confident because Durrant had been doing so well for us. But, then, Andy Roxburgh, took Durrant and John Collins a way form me to try out for the full squad.

"I always felt I would have beaten England had those two been available to me."

Six months later, Durrant's career lay as mangled as his knee was. Although, he would eventually return and represent Scotland again - winning 11 caps, the last of which was in 1994 against Malta - and although he would occasionally provide just the touch of class for Rangers doing it on a regular basis was always beyond him.

The Kilmarnock manager, Bobby Williamson, a former team-mate, believed the essence of Durrant was still there and recruited him in the close- season. He has been instrumental in the club's rise to second in the Premier League.

"To be honest," Brown said, "Ian was very close to being in my original selection. You only have to look at the league table to see who is pulling the strings for Kilmarnock.

"But I was trying to bring on younger players, such as Stephen Glass. Circumstances, however, have dictated the issue. Ian is a central midfield player and that is what we need right now."

That role was destined for Barry Ferguson and Durrant admitted he was already going to Tynecastle to give some moral support to his erstwhile Rangers team-mate.

"I am disappointed for Barry's sake," Durrant said. "He is great young player and Scotland should be looking towards younger players. I never said never, as far as Scotland were concerned, but I did think the chance had passed me by. I don't want to queue jump, but circumstances have changed."

Brown's lack of midfielders means that Blackburn Rovers' Billy McKinlay will become the experienced hand. Glass will make his debut after settling in at Newcastle United and another from the North-east of England, Sunderland's Allan Johnston, will also be handed a baptism.

Brown is desperate for three points from this Group Nine game. No wins in nine matches, and the gloom of the 0-0 draw in Lithuania last month have heightened the desire.

"We failed to deliver in Vilnius," he admitted yesterday. "Now we have to get it right. Anything less than maximum points from this match and the one with the Faroe Islands on wednesday would be a major disappointment.

"I am not saying it would rule us out of contention, but it would make life very difficult."

So, too will the Estonians, fresh from a 1-1 draw with Bosnia, who have Derby's Martin Poom to augment the 10 other players from Flora Tallin.

SCOTLAND: Leighton (Aberdeen); Boyd (Celtic), Hendry (Rangers), Weir (Hearts), Calderwood (Tottenham), McKinlay (Blackburn Rovers), Durrant (Kilmarnock), Glass (Newcastle United), Davidson (Blackburn Rovers); Gallacher (Blackburn Rovers), McCoist (Kilmarnock).

ESTONIA: Poom (Derby County); Smirnov, Kirs, Hohlov-Simson, Rooba, Alonen, Terehhov, Oper, Reim, Kristal, Zelinski (all Flora Tallin).