Fresh from his penalty heroics with Scotland and helping Steve Clarke’s side secure qualification for their first major tournament since 1998, goalkeeper David Marshall returned to Derby County today to a rapturous reception from his team-mates.
It was Marshall’s penalty shoot-out save from Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, following a 1-1 draw after extra-time, which earned the Tartan Army their place in next summer’s European Championships and ended a 22-year wait for qualification for a major competition.
Marshall would only have been a young teenager when Craig Brown led the Scots to France 1998, however, after almost a quarter of a century, the 35-year-old saved the crucial spot kick in the European Championships Qualification Play-Off to ensure his nation will be represented next summer.
His save sparked wild scenes in Scotland and in the dressing room as celebrations went on late into the night to toast their achievements. Marshall was seen dancing with his team-mates and leading the conga to Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ in a humorous video clip.
And it’s fine reward for the goalkeeper who has had to wait patiently for his opportunity with his national side, but nights like last week make it all worth it for Marshall.
“It was a great week,” the Scotland number one admitted when speaking to RamsTV. “We had a great start to a busy week with three games and the big one was the first one.
“It was a disappointing way to end it with two defeats in the Nations League and miss out on promotion, but it was an historic week in terms of qualification. It’s been 22 years for Scotland and it was a great night and something that will live long in the memory.
“You see the footage of people celebrating, the social media clips, but we had two more away games afterwards, so we didn’t get back home. I think Scotland was going mad for a couple of days, deservedly so. It has been a long, long time.
“I think it was more of a relief more than anything, everybody was desperate for us to get there. With the way the game ended as well, with Serbia getting a late equaliser and then the penalty shoot-out, it was probably one of the best ways to qualify if you are going to do it.
“I’m just looking forward, it gives us something to look forward to for probably everyone in terms of what has happened this year.”
He added: “It is the highlight of every players’ career in that squad. We were aware going into that game that we had a really good chance to make history. We were playing well and aware of how big it was for everybody.
“I think the good thing is we played really well in the game. We started strongly and deservedly went 1-0 up. We should have gone in two or three up, but when you are 1-0 to the good in football it is always dangerous.
“With the quality Serbia had and players worth huge amounts of money coming off the bench, that’s the kind of standard we were up against and unfortunately they got a late equaliser. However, to win it the way we did, was special.”
There was a poignant moment after Marshall saved the decisive penalty. Keen not to get carried away immediately, he sought assurances from the referee that his penalty save was legal and that he had not jumped off his line too early.
He seemed to pray that his penalty stop was a legitimate one and after the referee gave him the nod, his face lit up.
“It was the first penalty that could have ended the game so the referee told me when I was on the line to not celebrate because there would be a VAR check, so I knew that going into it,” he admitted.
“Everyone was kind of wondering what the reaction was for, but if I was off my line it would have been a re-take. I am glad it wasn’t because obviously the lads were half-way down the pitch! I was just glad to get the nod off the referee.
“When you haven’t saved any of the first four, you are thinking ‘I need to do my job here’. I needed to polarise it. I would rather try and save five penalties than take one!
“It was kind of a fairytale. As a goalkeeper, you want to take it, but the real pressure is on the takers for me.”
But such is the professionalism of the man, he has parked all those feelings to one side as he returns to club action this week with Derby.
The Rams face a trip to Bristol City tomorrow afternoon (3pm kick off) and know results need to improve to start climbing the Sky Bet Championship table.
“At the minute it is going well personally but we need to turn the results back at Derby,” he said. “We have got the European Championships to look forward to, but we don’t have an international break for four and a half months before our next game so we can focus on the club side of things.”