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Darren Fletcher revealed the thought of captaining his country to victory helped him through some "tough times" as he battled his way back to fitness.

The 31-year-old, who was diasgnosed with ulcerative colitis four years ago, struggled to keep his place in the national team, and at Manchester United, following a lengthy lay-off.

But he is now enjoying a new lease of life at West Bromwich Albion after his move from Old Trafford during the January transfer window.

And he was thrilled when Gordon Strachan asked him to lead out Scotland in Wednesday's 1-0 friendly win over Northern Ireland at Hampden Park, with recent skipper Scott Brown rested.

"It was great to be back," said Fletcher. "You are representing your country, you are captain, you win a game at home against Northern Ireland; it is things you thought about doing when you were going through tough times.

"It was a while since I played at Hampden; I was thinking that driving in. But I really enjoyed it and the pitch was really good as well. Scott wasn't starting so it was my turn to step up and be captain. I have said before, I am what I am now and, captain or not, I am going to be exactly the same.

"We have a lot of leaders in that dressing room which is important. There is competition for places, which is great. It means I have to step up my performance when I play. It is great for the manager and great for the squad that we are all pushing each other and performing well.

"I feel great. I feel stronger with every 90 minutes and I am seeing improvement all the time so hopefully there is more to come as well."


The match served as a warm-up for Scotland's European qualifier against Group D minnows Gibraltar at Hampden on Sunday, and it took a late Christophe Berra header to separate the teams.

The Scots will almost certainly move on to 10 points after five fixtures against UEFA's newest member but Fletcher is taking nothing for granted in terms of qualification hopes.

Since making his debut under Berti Vogts in a friendly against Norway in 2003, Scotland have failed to qualify for a major finals on six occasions.

He said: "We have great confidence in ourselves and in the group but I have been in this position before with Scotland and we have not managed to see it over the line.

"Everything we have done up until now has been great but the hard work is still to come. You have to keep reiterating that. We have an important match on Sunday.

"Win that and that takes us into the qualifier in June (away to Republic of Ireland) which is going to be an important game but there is still a lot of work to do. We have put ourselves in a great position but the hard work begins now and let's see it out."

Fletcher believes patience on and off the pitch will be key against a Gibraltar side who, after failing to score a goal in four games, will be keen to frustrate Scotland as much as possible.

He said: "Hopefully the fans are patient with us when we are trying to play our football and break teams down. 

"They were against Northern Ireland and it is important that they help us as much as they can. They have been fantastic as always and all of us together, we can achieve it."

Headlines for Scotland this week

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  • Fletcher

  • Darren Fletcher revealed the thought of captaining his country to victory helped him through some "tough times" as he battled his way back to fitness.

  • Scotland 1-0 Northern Ireland: Berra's strike raises home spirits

  • Scotland beat Northern Ireland 1-0 in a friendly international at Hampden Park on Wednesday night thanks to Christophe Berra’s late header.

  • Iwelumo tips Scotland to qualify for the European Championships

  • Former Scotland striker Chris Iwelumo says he is excited about the progress of the national team and believes Gordon Strachan's side will qualify for the European Championships in France next year.

  • Scotland boss Gordon Strachan happy with win over Northern Ireland

  • Gordon Strachan was a happy man after Scotland warmed up for Sunday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Gibraltar with a 1-0 friendly victory against Northern Ireland at Hampden Park.

  • Craig Brown praises Gordon Strachan for Scotland impact

  • Former Scotland manager Craig Brown has praised current boss Gordon Strachan for returning a “feel-good factor” to the national team ahead of the side’s friendly against Northern Ireland, live on Sky Sports 5.

  • Kevin Gallacher expects Scotland goals against Gibraltar

  • Kevin Gallacher says the impetus is on Scotland to score as many goals as possible against Gibraltar in their European Qualifier this weekend as they aim to keep pace with the top teams in Group D.

  • Spain enquire over Real Madrid starlet Jack Harper after Scotland snub

  • The father of Real Madrid youngster Jack Harper says Spain have enquired about his son after he was left out of the Scotland Under-19 squad.

  • Former Scotland coach Craig Brown backs Ricky Sbragia over Jack Harper exclusion

  • Former Scotland manager Craig Brown has defended Ricky Sbragia claiming his decision not to include Real Madrid youngster Jack Harper in his U19 squad should be respected.

  • Scotland v Northern Ireland international friendly preview

  • Scotland host Northern Ireland at Hampden Park on Wednesday as the home nations prepare for their European Qualifiers, against Gibraltar and Finland respectively, on Sunday.

  • Scotland almost too intense ahead of Northern Ireland friendly, says Gordon Strachan

  • Scotland manager Gordon Strachan said his players aren't holding back ahead of the friendly match against Northern Ireland.

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