ANDY WATSON is no stranger to the position he will take up on Saturday night.

However, that’s about as far as the similarities go compared to the last time he patrolled the home dug out at the National Stadium.

The former Motherwell and Rangers assistant followed Alex McLeish from club to club as the pair progressed up the coaching ladder before eventually taking hold of the Scotland squad in 2007. It would lead on to a campaign with some incredible highs and dramatic lows as the brave Scots were edged out at the very last by Italy.

Read more: Team effort will pay dividends to solve defensive problem for Rangers, says Craig PatersonEvening Times: 23/05/12.LARGS.Andy Watson joins A Licence candidates at the SportScotland National Centre.

It was an opportunity that came about in what felt like a natural progression for Watson. That is far from the case as he gets ready to make his Hampden return nine years later.

The 57-year-old took over the role of first-team coach from Stuart McCall during the summer in what the man himself describes as a massive ‘bolt from the blue’. It’s hard to disagree.

In his most recent post, Watson was in charge of lowly Ilkeston, watching his team go up against the likes of Blyth Spartans, Skelmersdale United and Mickleover Sports in the Evostick Northern Premier League (the same division as Salford City, the outfit owned by members of Manchester United’s Class of ’92). In two days’ time, he will instead find himself in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign, listening to Flower of Scotland boom round a rocking Hampden Park.

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“I’m 57 and getting a recall, it was great,” he joked. “I was at a team called Ilkeston as Salford and Darlington. I was manager in there. The remit was to try and develop young players.

“You had a young side and then from that you were trying to get them back into mainstream football and get a few sell-ons.

“I was in there for a year then at the end of the season they took the position back to part-time. I needed to try and remain in full-time football.

“Before that I’d been doing player and match analysis with Gordon. I got the phone call for this I thought it would just be for that purpose but he asked how I’d feel about coming on board with him and Mark. I just thought ‘Great, absolutely fantastic’.

“I’d like to think I’ve always been grateful for opportunities, and this came out the blue.

“Before I’d been at Motherwell, Hibs, Rangers then the national side so there was a progression that way.

“To get the opportunity to come back in again came totally out of the blue, it’s great.”

That group that Watson and McLeish led, along with Roy Aitken, back in 2007 was perhaps the closest our nation has come this millennium to making it to a major tournament.

In a campaign that saw the Scots defeat France home and away, they went into a final showdown at Hampden against the mighty Italians, knowing an historic victory would see them leapfrog their visitors and automatically qualify with the French.

Instead a 2-1 defeat meant eight wins from a possible 12 was not enough.

Given how close that group came, great encouragement should be taken from the fact Watson believes the vibe among this generation is even better.

“A lot of things were familiar but its brilliant to see the mood of everyone and how the whole things work with Gordon and Mark McGhee,” said Watson.

“There was a real good feeling and warmth to it, it was almost like a club. Everyone turned up and went about their work diligently, just as they did before.

“The club feel is important and that they all want to be here. We do get very few call offs unless there’s genuine injuries. When here everyone is treated well. It’s fantastic facilities and surroundings.

“Everyone has an opportunity. They are all playing well to get selected, so then they come here sometimes you think ‘he is playing really well’ and he can push himself forward into the manager’s thoughts.

“There’s a different venue. We were at Cameron House now we are at Mar Hall. There’s a calmer atmosphere here.”

At the heart of this lot is a core of Scottish-based players, something that hasn’t always been the case in recent times. Yes, English Premier League experience is a sought-after commodity, but of this squad nine of them ply their trade north of the border.

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Scott Brown, of course, isn’t one of them given his retirement in the summer. But while Watson acknowledges the loss of the Celtic captain was a blow, he insists it gives the chance to others to step up.

“Broony is a large character. Of course anyone would miss that influence,” he said.

“He’s playing well for Celtic. But he’s made his decision and he’s done that for him and his family.

“If someone leaves, it’s an opportunity for someone else to come in and try to stake a place. We’ve just got to get on with it and deal with that.

“You also have John McGinn, it’s a great mix.

“The most important criteria is to get a group of players who can go and get the results we want this time.”