GARY MACKAY-STEVEN is not surprised at the sensational impact his best pal Stuart Armstrong has made at international level.

The Celtic midfielder had a baptism of fire when was pitched into Scotland’s must-win World Cup qualifier against Slovenia at Hampden on Sunday night.

Gordon Strachan acclaimed the performance and added it could have been “the best-ever Scottish debut I’ve ever seen”.

Mackay-Steven, who arrived at the champions in a £2million double deal with Armstrong from Dundee United on the last day of the January 2015 transfer deadline, anticipated such a startling display from his chum.

The pair are so close, they have been christened Zig and Zag by their Hoops team-mates. 

As praise showered around the 24-year-old playmaker who has claimed 12 goals this time out, the winger said: “If anybody deserves it, it is Stuart.

“I know him well, of course, and I know how hard he works. He is always at it, always trying to learn, to get better and you can see that this season the manager was prepared to give him his chance.

“He has taken it and I am not surprised at how well he has done because he we have always known what he has to offer.

“I am just delighted to watch him flourish the way he has this season.

“There is a lot there for us all to take from him, too.

“Stuart wasn’t playing every week at the start of the campaign, but he was patient and he kept at it and you have to take a lot of encouragement to where he is now.

“He is absolutely flying and it is brilliant to see.”

However, Mackay-Steven, 26, realises he has a lot to do to get back into the Hoops first team beside his mate.

The touchline operator struggled in the Scottish Cup-tie against St Mirren and was hooked at half-time to make way for Patrick Roberts.

Even boss Brendan Rodgers admitted nothing came off for the player as the Championship side led 1-0 at the interval before being blitzed 4-1 during a second-half onslaught.

Mackay-Steven, who was recovering from an ankle operation at the start of the campaign, has made just nine appearances across all competitions for the Parkhead outfit.

But he is determined to get back into his manager’s plans in time for the exciting run-in to the term with the club zeroing in on their first domestic clean sweep in 16 years.

He said: “I just want to keep my head down and keep working.

“The manager hasn’t been anything other than great with me. He is always talking to us, always explaining what he is doing.

“I have no issue with anything.

“It is just up to me to show what I can in training and then take that into games whenever I get the chance.”

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