WHEN players pull out of international squads, the reaction is instant, the speculation over their apparent injuries is frenzied, and their commitment is questioned. When they go above and beyond for the national cause, you might not hear about it at all.

It was refreshing then in this climate of suspicion over the desire of players to pull on the dark blue of Scotland to hear from Stuart Armstrong, who not only took his omission from Steve Clarke’s last squad on the chin, but grasped the late call-up to hop on a plane to Moscow with both hands.

The Southampton midfielder says he would never turn down his country’s call, but a phone call from manager Clarke to personally explain why he had left him out of his original squad for the games against Russia and San Marino was greatly appreciated in any case.

“I don’t think I would every turn down the opportunity to come away with Scotland,” Armstrong said. “Playing for your country is probably the best thing in football for me.

“It’s a different feeling from club football. Club football is terrific but playing for Scotland is always a special thing for me.

“It was difficult not being named in the squad initially the last time, but I had a good chat with the manager and completely understood the things we talked about.

“The Scotland squad should always be picked on form and sometimes when you are not playing as regularly as you want to for your club, you can’t really argue.

“But I was delighted to get the call to come back into the squad. I love being here.

“It was really nice of the gaffer to explain to me beforehand why I wasn’t in that squad. I could have just found out when he named it. We had a good chat and I completely agreed with everything he said.

“It’s a great positive to have that relationship with the manager. All the players will be the same.

“He’s just open with us. We are all human beings and can all be spoken to as adults. It’s a great thing to be able to speak one-on-one truthfully.”

Some home truths may have been delivered by Clarke in the aftermath of that 4-0 defeat in the Luzhniki Stadium too, and there was a much-improved showing against minnows San Marino a few days later at Hampden.

That may seem the faintest sign that there is still life about this Scotland side, but Armstrong hopes that two more positive results over the next few days can have the nation’s pulses racing again by the time the Euro 2020 play-off games roll around.

“We have two big games in March but we’re not thinking about that right now,” he said. “It’s about building on that San Marino performance and making sure these next two games against Cyprus and Kazakhstan are positive, that we get points from them and finish as high in the group as possible.

“Everyone thrives on good performances and winning games. That attracts positivity among supporters, so it’s up to us as a group to build on the San Marino game and offer the fans good performances and wins.”

On a personal level, the international break provides Armstrong with something of a respite after a tough spell with his club.

He came on as a substitute when Southampton were seven down to Leicester City on their way to an infamous 9-0 thumping, an experience he curtly said he would rather not discuss when raised in conversation.

If anything positive came from it though it was the shake-up by manager Ralph Hassenhuttl that has seen him start the last two games, albeit in defeats to Manchester City and Everton. He admits that the transition from being a mainstay of a dominant Celtic side to fighting for a place in a struggling Premiership outfit has, at times, been a jarring one.

“It’s been an interesting journey for me so far, not always smooth,” he said.

“At Celtic, it was always more dominant, you have a lot more possession. Your aim there is to win the league and the cups. In the Premier League, your ambition is to finish as high as possible.

“So, it’s different challenges and different mentality.”