I’m ready to tackle Auld Enemy, says Steven Naismith

Steven Naismith has not featured in this World Cup qualifying campaign thus far. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Steven Naismith has not featured in this World Cup qualifying campaign thus far. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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He may not have played a ­single minute of the campaign to date. But Steven Naismith has urged Gordon Strachan to remember his past deeds in this hour of need.

Such determination from a player who has dropped out of favour recently underlines the support for Strachan within the squad prior to what many suspect could be the manager’s last match in charge.

Tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier with England is hugely significant in any case since it is the first competitive clash between the countries this millennium. But Scotland’s poor start to the campaign means it has been provided with an extra charge. Lose and the feeling is Strachan will walk away.

Naismith clearly hopes this isn’t the case. And he wants to do his bit to help prevent the potential double blow of Strachan’s resignation amid the wreckage of Scotland’s World Cup hopes.

The 30-year-old has reminded Strachan of his own success rate in games against top-class opposition, both on club and international stage. Goals against Croatia, Poland and the then world champions Spain point to someone who has a habit of excelling on high-profile occasions.

“Personally I definitely hope the manager looks at it and thinks I have done it in the past and he can rely on me, especially at the start of the last campaign when I was involved” said Naismith. “Hopefully he will look at that and know ‘I can rely on him’.

“But another way of looking at that is that I would not be in the squad if he didn’t think that. So I just have to make sure I am ready – and I have done it enough times in my career to be ready.”

The fact there is even need to issue a reminder is a stark illustration of how Naismith’s career has faltered recently. He has gone from main man to forgotten man with Scotland in under two years. The striker played in nine of Scotland’s ten qualifiers in the last campaign. Strachan once described Naismith as “a manager’s treat”.

It’s also just over 12 months since he scored a hat-trick for Everton that helped end Jose Mourinho’s second stint as Chelsea manager. But Naismith is now struggling to get a game with Championship side Norwich City. Consequently, his international career has suffered, leaving him stalled on 43 caps.

He understands why Strachan has felt others deserve to be picked ahead of him. Naismith has remained on the bench for all three opening qualifiers.

But the striker believes the unique nature of tomorrow’s clash should encourage Strachan to seriously consider his potential to discomfit the England rearguard. He has proved expert at harassing other top-class defences in the past.

But a switch from Everton to Norwich has not been as successful as he would have liked. Equally frustrating was the breakdown of a mooted move to Sunderland in the last transfer window. Newcastle United were also said to be interested in the player.

Given his relative inactivity since – he was an unused sub in Norwich’s game against Leeds United at the weekend, and hasn’t made a league start since August – Naismith has had to accept his Scotland fate.

“It has been frustrating but I am realistic to understand my situation at my club from when the transfer window shut, and my opportunities have been limited,” he said. “You can’t be turning up here and guys are doing it week in week out and asking, ‘Why am I not playing in front of these guys?’

“You have to be realistic,” he added. “The one thing I would stress is if I am called upon I will be ready to play. I have looked after myself and trained hard and if I get the chance to play I will clutch it with both hands. I have done that before in my career.”

He has had experience of playing against many of those Scotland will be up against tomorrow after five years spent south of the Border since leaving Rangers. It’s one reason why Naismith is confident he will take what would surely count as a surprise appearance at Wembley in his stride. “I think the younger boys playing with Scotland will maybe have a bigger feeling coming up against guys they have only ever seen on TV highlights in the Premier League,” he said.

“But the more experienced boys will take it as just another game. In [recent] games against Germany and Poland we went into them with confidence and looked solid and that’s what we need to be on Friday.”

Naismith has something else he can bring to the party: inside knowledge of one of England’s prized assets, John Stones. The centre-half is at Manchester City but first provided evidence of his potential to become a serious talent at Everton, where Naismith was a team-mate.

But there’s a feeling Stones, classy ball-player though he clearly is, has a potentially ­significant mistake in him in every game. It’s up to Scotland, perhaps even Naismith, to take advantage.

Naismith described Stones as “potentially world class, in all honesty”. He added: “He is the total opposite of every British centre-half ever. And that is probably why he is playing at Manchester City, where I think the manager [Pep Guardiola] will be great for him.

“He is young and he has to be able to make mistakes. Especially down in England they are not comfortable letting them make mistakes without blatantly pointing it out. Time will tell but he has a real chance.”

Naismith confirmed there will be the usual exchange of texts between former club-mates pre-match. But he desperately hopes this doesn’t remain the closest contact he has with Stones.