The bottom line of his scouting report read ‘a Premier League player’ or words to that effect.
McCormack looks like one when his sights lock-on as they did on Saturday, a striker who could generate the force needed to smash Leeds United through the Championship’s ceiling. A swamp of a pitch in south London was no obstacle to an exhibition of one-hit finishing worth four goals and a precious away win.
His sniping at Charlton Athletic blew dust off the archives as landmarks were noted: the first hat-trick scored by a United player since 2011 and the first four-goal haul in nine years.
Only 11 others have done for Leeds what McCormack did in London and Tom Jennings, himself a native of Scotland, was the last to do so away from home way back in 1926.
Jennings endured an inexplicably barren international career and McCormack can relate to that. His single-handed destruction of Charlton was a riposte to his omission from Scotland’s squad last week, a decision taken in spite of four goals in five previous games.
Suddenly he has eight in six and Gordon Strachan has one in the eye. A thriving goalscorer will rest his feet in Spain while the Scots prepare for a couple of friendlies.
In Strachan’s defence, McCormack has never been so prolific in such a short period of time. The hat-trick was his first, not only for Leeds but of his entire professional career, and he slipped into one of those zones where everything he hit had Charlton’s sorry goalkeeper, Ben Hamer, grasping at air: four chances, four goals and each one taken with instinctive finesse.
“People always tell you you’ll have days like that in your career, where you feel like every shot’s going in,” McCormack said.
“I’ve never had that before and I’ve never had a day like this, not in terms of goalscoring. When the third one went in I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never scored a hat-trick before or not professionally anyway. For the under-21s and all that I’ve scored four, five, six in games but never in the first team.”
McCormack took the match-ball with him, signed by every member of United’s squad after full-time. It was some end to a day which almost never began, and singling out the best of his goals was a challenge.
His first was sharp and clinical, feathered past Hamer, and his third and fourth on 73 and 90 minutes were weapons-grade strikes, safeguarding a 4-2 victory.
Even a penalty midway through the second half was driven viciously into the roof of Hamer’s net, nothing like the timid attempt which Bournemouth’s Darryl Flahavan read and saved last month with McCormack fighting to dig himself out of a little rut.
“The best goal for me was the fourth one,” McDermott said. “It meant I could relax.”
United’s manager is unaccustomed to feeling like that away from home and would have been forgiven for thinking that Saturday was descending into another of those days.
There was a stage around 1.30pm where he half expected to be told to get back on the bus and leave behind a waterlogged field which barely survived a torrent of rain on the morning of the match.
Two inspections were needed to declare playable a notorious surface which Charlton’s groundstaff prodded and swept to death.
By the time referee Keith Stroud gave the nod around 2.20pm, a delayed kick-off was already inevitable with turnstiles locked and scores of United’s supporters waiting for news at London Bridge train station.
The contest began half-an-hour late. You wondered still if McDermott might be secretly praying for more rain.
He was short of Sam Byram and Stephen Warnock at The Valley and minus midfielder Alex Mowatt whose injury in training on Thursday remained a secret for 48 hours.
The clutch of absentees brought forth Danny Pugh and Michael Brown for appearances which were scarcely in the post two weeks ago.
Social media saw the line-up and lost its stomach but McDermott had alternatives if he wanted them. Luke Varney and El-Hadji Diouf were left out of the squad completely and others were consigned to the bench.
“Alex got injured on Thursday but I had Browny in mind for that position anyway,” McDermott said.
Trench warfare was difficult to avoid and Brown is suited to it but McCormack’s goals made scrapbook material of vile conditions, ending United’s streak of five straight away defeats and smashing to bits a Charlton defence who had gone seven hours without conceding as goal.
Their boss, Chris Powell, drew a manager-of-the-month nomination on the strength of that record but his side unravelled after 16 minutes as McCormack ran onto Dexter Blackstock’s header and stroked the ball past Hamer.
Charlton were fated to chase the game and did so as coherently as the weather allowed. Chances came and went and Paddy Kenny’s parry saw off a shot from Simon Church which screamed towards him just before half-time.
Church also hit a post but Kenny had nothing to guard against Cameron Stewart’s 45th-minute equaliser, dispatched with a pin-point volley.
Stewart’s reply came late in the half but Leeds were lucky to reach the interval with parity. Tom Lees desperately clipped a low cross from Lawrie Wilson over his own crossbar and Kenny did the same by reaching out to meet Callum Harriott’s sliced attempt.
“We went in at half-time a bit frustrated,” Powell said, and the second minute of the second half left him feeling worse.
Harriott conceded a penalty by flicking out a foot as Pugh ran into Charlton’s box and McCormack did the rest. Powell claimed later that his team were “right in the game for 70 minutes” but they were never the same after that, even when Johnnie Jackson levelled with 20 minutes to play.
His effort was a tap-in, presented to him after Church mugged Lee Peltier and Tom Lees by dragging them towards one wing and then leaving them for dead.
But three minutes later, a misguided clearance dropped to McCormack who, with a defender on his shoulder and the goal six yards away, swung his right boot and watched the net ripple.
McDermott looked immediately for Leeds to employ his strategy for safe, productive football away from home and for a while they allowed Charlton to press.
Pockets of space began to open up in front of Hamer and Austin drew a free-kick on the edge of Charlton’s box when he broke from the half-way line in the last minute of normal time and tempted Jackson into a foul.
McCormack sized up the set-piece and defied awkward positioning for a right-footer by swinging the ball across Hamer and inside his far post.
“Fair play to Ross,” Powell said. “His predatory instinct was the difference. But it was a strange game. We were clapped off at the end.”
Powell’s recollection of full-time ignored sporadic booing and appeared to confuse applause with the angry banging of seats.
The away end bounced and the man of the moment beamed. A short break on the continent awaits while Scotland plough on without him. “Every cloud,” McCormack said.