Scotland debut caps Maloney's recovery

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The Independent Online

Gordon Strachan, the Celtic manager, has praised Shaun Maloney for winning his first Scotland cap just months after the striker feared his career was over.

Maloney came on as a second-half substitute in the World Cup qualifying defeat by Belarus at Hampden Park on Saturday. But the Celtic forward only returned to action in February after a cruciate knee injury left him on the sidelines for a year.

Maloney almost scored on his Scotland debut before his goalbound shot was inadvertently blocked by team-mate Lee McCulloch.

Yet Strachan insisted the striker could be proud of his achievements after his lengthy struggle against injury. "I think Shaun had three attempts on goal which is good because it is not easy going on for your first international in a big game like that," Strachan said. "He looked a bit nervous to start with, but got better and better the longer the game went on and it's an added bonus for the club and for him.

"This time last year, he was recovering from a bad injury and wondering what was going to happen with his career and now he's playing international football in one of Scotland's biggest games for a long time. So he can be really pleased with his work this season, that's for sure."

Stephen Pearson admits he is a desperate to end a miserable year by forcing his way back into the Celtic first team. Pearson has endured months of injury problems but is now at the stage where he can force his way into Strachan's plans.

Pearson has not started a match since the 2-2 draw against Dundee last November, undergoing a double hernia operation and then surgery on a groin problem.

Last month he made two cameo appearances - the final minute against Aberdeen and a second-half showing against Hibernian, which resulted in him aggravating his groin again. However, he insists he will soon be able to put his injury troubles behind him for good.

"It's been tough," Pearson said. "I'd always been quite fortunate with injuries before this but the hernia started it all off for me and it's just been a bit of a nightmare ever since.

"But injuries are something every player has to deal with at some stage of their career and I've been luckier than a lot of people in that respect," he added. "It only makes you appreciate it all the more when you get back playing and, having got a taste of it again recently, I'm dying to get back out there again."

Celtic have put a poor start behind them and know that victory over Scottish Premier League leaders Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park on Saturday will put them top of the table. Pearson is under no illusions as to just how difficult it will be to force his way back into a team who are finally starting to perform.

"The manager's been good with me and made it clear that he considers me part of his plans. But I'm not daft," he said.

"The way the team are playing at the moment, it's going to be very difficult for me to get into the team and, realistically, I don't think I've even got a chance of featuring against Hearts.

"But I'd hope that once I'm fully fit, I can prove to the manager in training and reserve games that I deserve a chance in the team. Then it will just be a case of making sure I take it."

The recurrence of his groin injury at Easter Road has served as a warning to Pearson not to rush plans for a proper comeback this time but he admits he is relishing the prospect of fighting for his place.

"I'm still not 100 per cent but I'm getting there," he said. "It's frustrating but you know that, if you've been out the length of time I have, there's a decent chance you'll pick up the odd knock when you're coming back.

"It's always tough with groin injuries because you're never sure exactly what you can do and when but I'm very close and I should be back to full fitness within weeks.

"Really, I'm just enjoying being part of the squad again and, although I know it's going to be very tough."

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