“I was surprised he didn’t get a call-up for Scotland to be dead honest with you,” says Plymouth Argyle manager Ryan Lowe about his prolific top scorer.
Ryan Hardie has scored 10 goals in 15 league and cup games this season – more than any other Scottish player in the top four tiers of English football or the top two tiers in Scotland.
“I was expecting a call just because he’s scoring goals,” added Lowe of the former Rangers youngster who appears to have found the perfect place to find the net at the club furthest away from his homeland.
On paper you would say Scotland could do with all the firepower they can get.
Steve Clarke’s side scored just once in their three group matches at the delayed European Championships this summer and in 13 games in 2021 have scored 16 times – although half of those goals came in two games against the Faroe Islands and the dramatic 3-2 win over Israel on Saturday.
“It’s great to have the backing of your manager and the confidence that he gives you on the park is very, very good,” Hardie, 24, told BBC Sport after his side’s 2-1 win over Burton Albion on Saturday.
It was a game that saw him hit the bar, have a shot cleared off the line and a header saved in a first half in which he also set up his side’s second goal as Plymouth went top of League One.
“When he says things like that he’s got the ultimate respect for you and he’s happy with the way you’re playing, which makes me feel a bit better,” Hardie added.
“Internationals are where you want to be as a football player, but as I said to him – we had a chat about it – I’ve only scored 10 goals, it’s only a start, I want to go and get 20 and see where that takes me.
“I don’t want to stop at 10 and say I should be in it, i want to just keep going and see where it takes me.”
Family and the gym – Hardie’s key to success
A former Scotland Under-21 player, Hardie began his career at Rangers, playing seven games in the Scottish Premiership in 2017 after playing five times in the Scottish second tier two years earlier.
He had loan spells at Raith Rovers, St Mirren and most productively at Livingston where he scored 15 goals in a season-and-a-half – goals which saw him get a move to Blackpool in the summer of 2019.
But his time at Bloomfield Road was a tough one – his only goal came in the EFL Trophy as seven League One appearances ended without a goal.
Hardie moved to Argyle in January 2020 on loan and scored seven goals in 13 games as the Pilgrims won promotion from League Two before scoring six times last season as he returned first on loan, and then permanently in January.
So what has changed this season to see Hardie leapfrog last season’s goal total in less than two months?
“Last season when the gyms were shut I lost my sharpness,” he explained.
“It’s just small things like activations where just getting in the gym and getting a bit stronger in the legs, it gives me a bit more of a push off the defender and I think my speed is a lot quicker than it was last season so it benefits me getting in behind the defenders quicker.
“I think family’s a massive reason. I’ve got a wee boy that’s just turned one so we got him down here straight away when I came on loan and when we made it permanent in January last year it was just a bit of security as to where we were going to be for another two and a half years.
“It gave me the confidence that I would be playing here next season instead of worrying where I’m going to be if we need to move again.
“It’s all about keeping the family happy and at the end of the day they’re settled here and they love it and that makes a massive difference to me on the pitch.”
‘I’m sure Steve’s monitoring him’
Hardie may be grabbing the headlines with his goals, but on the field Plymouth have risen to the top of League One in impressive style.
They are unbeaten since the opening day of the season and just two sides have scored more goals than Lowe’s side with Hardie forming an impressive partnership with Wales Under-21 striker Luke Jephcott.
“This season it feels different,” Hardie added.
“There’s a special thing going on inside the club and every single player and every single person and member of staff is on board with it.
“The way we play football is different to a lot of teams in the league. We’ve got our own style of play and we impose that on them and other teams need to change.
“We’re top of the league but there’s only 11 games gone, there’s still another 35 to go, so it’s nice being there at the minute but the ultimate aim is to keep ticking off each game one-by-one and keep seeing where it takes us.”
Scotland face Moldova and Denmark in their final two World Cup qualifiers next month as they aim to secure a play-off for a place at Qatar 2022, and Lowe says Hardie will become harder to overlook if he keeps finding the net.
“I’m not sitting here telling Steve Clarke what to do by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve got a leading goalscorer in the country at the moment and he’s your player,” Lowe said.
“I’m sure Steve’s monitoring him and watching him, because who wouldn’t?”