“A BIT of excitement is having something nice to eat, so when that goes, there’s not much left!”

Almost every Scottish football fan will, for many years to come, remember exactly where they were when the nation were triumphant in their first ever penalty shootout, to move to within the brink of finally securing a return to a major tournament.

In truth, given the current situation around the world, the answer for most will have been ‘sat at home’ on Thursday, October 8 last year.

Under normal circumstances, more than 50,000 would have been packed in to Hampden Park, but the European Championship play-off clash with Israel was played in front of an empty stadium due to coronavirus restrictions.

For Stuart Armstrong, he should have been on the pitch, or at least part of the matchday squad looking to move to within one game of ending the country’s 23-year absence from the main stage of the men’s game, by winning that one-off match in Glasgow.

Instead, having contracted COVID-19 himself just a few days earlier, he and Scotland team-mates Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie, who were deemed close contacts of Armstrong, were all themselves forced to watch on from home, like the rest of the nation.

Fortunately for the Saints star, Scotland triumphed 5-3 on spot-kicks after a goalless draw to progress into the play-off final.

Armstrong was a bit closer to the action in Belgrade, watching on from the bench as Steve Clarke’s side defeated Serbia, again on penalties, to reach this summer’s European Championship.

Reflecting back on the tense night against Israel, Armstrong told the Daily Echo: “It was a very tough watch. It was a massive, massive game and not easy to watch from the side. 

“Obviously a couple of boys isolating with me is never nice. It’s always better playing because you don’t have that sense of nervousness from the side. 
“But the boys did great and fantastic to get the result.”

Discussing his experience of COVID-19, Armstrong added: “There were not too many symptoms, just a couple of days of feeling quite fatigued.

“And losing some taste and smell, which was quite a frustrating thing because when you’re in the house all day, every day for a couple of weeks, a bit of excitement is having something nice to eat! So when that goes, there’s not much left. 

“But coming back and feeling fit again was a relief.”

Daily Echo:

Despite recovering from coronavirus, Armstrong has suffered with a few niggles throughout the season, with Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl always keen to manage the 28-year-old’s match minutes.

One time he was ruled out with a problem was on the eve of this season, when Armstrong picked up a thigh injury whilst on international duty, something which frustrated Hasenhuttl.

Asked if he felt stuck in the middle of demands put on him by his club and his country, Armstrong said: “I think it was just unfortunate. Injuries happen, they’re part of football. 

“But I think, as you’ve seen throughout the league and with the schedules involved, a lot of players have been picking up little injuries that maybe they didn’t last season when the schedule was slightly less. 

“It’s just part of the world we’re in at the moment because of the way things are.”

Armstrong, who turns 29 today, has again proved to be a key cog in Saints’ side this season and signed a new long-term deal with the club in January.

He is currently away with Scotland, embarking on their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, and will hope to win a 25th senior cap against Faroe Islands on Wednesday.

But with Euro group fixtures against Czech Republic, Croatia and the ‘Auld Enemy’ England to come in June, the anticipation is certainly growing north of the border.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for the country,” said Armstrong when asked about this summer’s upcoming tournament.

“There’s so much excitement and happiness involved with it. We’ve waited so long for a major tournament. 

“It will just be a dream come true to hopefully be involved with the team come the summer. 

“But you have to park that in the back of your mind and focus on Southampton and focus on the games ahead and doing your best, because ultimately that’s what earns your place in the national team.”