CALLUM McGREGOR led Celtic out for the Flag Day opener against Ross County at Parkhead on August 5.

The inspirational midfielder played his part in a 4-2 victory and was a mainstay before missing four successive games with a hamstring problem after coming off at half-time in the 7-1 home win over Dundee on February 28.

However, McGregor was in his usual position last month to lift the champions’ third successive Premiership title and the Scottish Cup as Brendan Rodgers’ comeback season ended with a triumphant double.

After over 10 months of unrelenting pressure, the 31-year-old Hoops captain has one final challenge to face when Scotland take on Hungary in the 8pm kick-off in Stuttgart on Sunday in a crucial make-or-break Euro 24 encounter.

BRING ON THE SWISS…back row (left to right): Che Adams, Angus Gunn, Jack Hendry, Scott McTominay, Grant Hanley and John McGinn; front row: Billy Gilmour, Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Anthony Ralston and Callum McGregor.

Along with his international team-mates, McGregor came in for heavy criticism after the landslide 5-1 loss to hosts Germany in the competition’s opener in Munich on Friday night.

Manager Steve Clarke asked his team to “play better” against Switzerland and they responded with a display that still leaves Scotland with a chance of reaching the next stage of the European Championships for the first time in history.

McGregor stood up to be counted in the 1-1 draw with the Swiss in Cologne last night when he was instrumental in the Scots taking the lead in the 13th minute.

It was a breathtaking surge forward from Clarke’s men with Billy Gilmour setting it in motion with a neat pass to skipper Andy Robertson who swept upfield at pace.

The left-back picked out McGregor, making a smart run on the left. He controlled the pass before striking a ball at perfect pace to Scott McTominay who thumped a drive towards goal.

SMASH HIT…Callum McGregor lays on Scotland’s goal for Scott McTominay.

It took a deflection off defender Fabian Schar on its way past keeper Yann Sommer, but the goal was credited to the Manchester United man.

Unfortunately, the Swiss levelled before the half-hour mark when a blind pass from Anthony Ralston was played inside and seized upon by Xerdan Shaqiri who thundered a first-time shot past the helpless Angus Gunn into the roof of the net.

It was the end of the scoring, but not the drama. Ex-Celtic fans’ favourite Kieran Tierney had to be stretchered off midway through the second-half and has no chance of playing against the Hungarians at the weekend.

Grant Hanley then hit a post with a close-range header and the Swiss survived a couple of penalty-box skirmishes to claim a point to go with their three from their opening-day win over Hungary.

Now all eyes are on Stuttgart on Sunday as McGregor and Co face another stern test.

The influential Hoops star is a certainty to take his place in middle of the park and he is likely to be joined by Norwich City’s Gilmour who missed the mauling in Munich, but shone in Cologne.

Clarke said: “It was always my intention to start Billy in the second game and that is why he did not start the first game. But I knew and you could see it towards the end he was tiring a little.

“It is a tough shift in midfield. I thought he and Callum McGregor, both central midfielders, were outstanding.”

Looking at his players’ answer to the critics, the Scots boss continued: “It was what we expected. This is the way we have been playing as a team for the last three or four years.

“It’s why we’re here at a major tournament. We knew what we had to do, the players knew what they had to do. So, it was a good team performance against a good opponent.

“I said before game I wanted the players to show the real Scotland and I think they did that. It was a good reaction to a disappointing night against Germany and we are still alive in the tournament.”

AIR WE GO…Scott McTominay celebrates Scotland’s goal.

The international supremo also defended Ralston for his part in the loss of the goal. He made the point others in the vicinity could have rectified the situation.

Clarke, speaking to the BBC, added: “Tony made the mistake and it was a small mistake it could have been recovered because there were two players near the ball.

“If that chance falls to any other player in the Swiss team it’s not a goal.  Shaqiri is a top, top player. You do not give top players that type of chance.”


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