HE IS determined to keep his feet on the ground, but after an outstanding performance in the biggest match of his life, 20-year-old Andy McLean has every reason to be dreaming of bigger and better things.
The young Berwick Rangers centre-back was complimented by three different managers who were there to witness Sunday’s 2-0 Scottish Cup fourth-round defeat to Celtic, a match beamed live on Sky Sports and played in front of a near capacity crowd at Shielfield Park. As far as Berwick manager Jimmy Crease is concerned, it is only a matter of time before the manager of a bigger club makes an official approach.
“Andy has had two very good games for us in the cup this season,” said Crease of a player who has been an ever present this season.
“He played well against Celtic on Sunday, but he was even better in the previous round away to Cove Rangers. He is the youngest player in the squad, but he is gaining experience very quickly, and I think he can go a long way in the game. He can definitely play at a higher level.
“Three different managers came up to me after the Celtic game and said how well Andy had played, so that has to be a feather in his cap.”
McLean has made a rapid rise through the ranks at Berwick. Starting with the Under-17s, he has worked his way through the Under-19s and reserves, spending loan spells at Coldstream and Gala Fairydean before establishing himself in the first-team.
The former Hawick High School pupil would like to play at a higher level one day, but insists he is happy continuing to learn his trade at Shielfield.
“It’s not something I’ve thought too much about,” he said of a potential transfer. “Obviously, I’d love to play at a higher level. I’m happy at Berwick and I’m enjoying it. If anything happens, then I’d love to play at a higher level, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Other young players may have crumbled after making the ghastly mistake he did 17 minutes into the match to hand Celtic the opening goal on a plate. McLean, however, demonstrated the sort of mental resilience needed at a higher level by putting the error behind him immediately and turning in a composed and confident display against Celtic’s multi-million pound attack.
Time after time, he was in the right place at the right time to clear the danger as Celtic put the home rearguard under pressure. He won header after header, made timely interceptions and stood up well to the threat posed first by Greek international Georgios Samaras and later by £800,000 striker Anthony Stokes.
“I watched Samaras against Rangers the week before and he’s brilliant,” said McLean. “He’s quick too. It was a good experience to play against him. We defended well for the most part. Our keeper didn’t have a lot of saves to make in the game. We didn’t cause them a lot of problems either, but for an SPL team to down come here and not create a lot of chances, we’ve got to be pleased with that. The boys were saying that you’re not going to win all your headers. But I was quite pleased with my performance. Everything except the goal.
“We’re all disappointed to lose the game. We’re pleased with the performance because they are three leagues above us and were always going to be favourites, but we gave away two stupid goals.
“They were two very preventable goals. It would be different if they had scored two great goals, but they were not great goals at all.”
The opening goal came from Charlie Malgrew’s cross deep into the box. With Berwick goalkeeper Mark Peat opting to stay on his line, McLean appeared to be off balance as he made a swipe with his left foot in an attempt to clear.
Instead, the ball spun off Celtic captain Daniel Majstorovic’s shin and sat up nicely for the big Swede to smash high into the net from six yards out.
“The cross came in and I tried to clear it,” explained McLean. “The ball was spinning and I wasn’t sure if the keeper was going to come. At the last minute I just swung and it hit the top of my foot. It just dropped right to him and landed perfectly. It couldn’t have landed any better for him.”
McLean is always trying to improve and his manager is an admirer of the young man’s character and desire and improve. “It was great was to see the way he bounced back and showed his resillience after making the mistake for the first goal,” Crease added. “But as a player he has to learn from his mistakes, and I feel he is doing that.
“He is a quiet lad, but he works hard at his game and he never causes us any problems. He may not be the biggest central defender in the world, but he is still about 6ft, and what he doesn’t have in stature he more than makes up for in ability.”