Alex McLeish delighted Steven Fletcher answered Scotland call

Scotland manager Alex McLeish with assistants James McFadden, left, and Peter Grant, right, at Hampden. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
Scotland manager Alex McLeish with assistants James McFadden, left, and Peter Grant, right, at Hampden. Picture: Bruce White/SNS
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Alex McLeish insisted Steven
Fletcher “stuck out like a sore thumb” when he assessed his options to fill the Scotland striking void left by injured duo Steven Naismith and Leigh Griffiths.

Fletcher was handed his first international call-up for just over a year as part of a 23-man party named by the Scotland boss for this month’s decisive Uefa Nations League fixtures against Albania and Israel.

The Sheffield Wednesday striker has not played for his country since coming on as a late substitute for Gordon Strachan in the final 2018 World Cup qualifier away to Slovenia in October last year.

Fletcher’s last Scotland start was two years ago before 
Strachan opted for Griffiths his first choice.

The 31-year-old former Hibs, Burnley, Wolves and Sunderland player has scored just three goals in 17 appearances for English Championship strugglers Wednesday this season but McLeish believes he can make a significant impact as Scotland look to win Group C1 in the Nations League and guarantee a play-off place for the Euro 2020 finals.

“It was a challenge putting this squad together but some good news came out at the end of it in terms of Steven accepting the call,” said McLeish.

“He is enthusiastic about it. I asked him where he was in terms of his general fitness because he had been out of the Scotland picture for a long time. We hadn’t engaged with him in the summer or anything.

“He said he would still love to play for Scotland and it was music to my ears. He is a specialist centre forward, he can link play and do that aspect of the game. I’ve always liked 
Steven as a player.”

Fletcher has nine goals for Scotland, more than the rest of the squad combined, albeit six of them came from hat-tricks in two games against minnows Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifying.

McLeish believes Fletcher’s experience – he won the first of his 31 caps in 2008 – made him an obvious choice.

“That is why he stuck out like a sore thumb,” McLeish added. “It is good that he has been playing regularly for Wednesday. He has been managing his games and recovery.

“I’m sure he can make a big impression for us.

“There are a lot of names out there. We looked at Jordan Rhodes at Norwich as well. We have guys regularly out in the field looking at them and we have reports every single week. We just felt that at this moment in time Fletch was the right candidate.

“When I knew Steven and Leigh would be unavailable, I was thinking about alternatives – makeshift centre forwards, false centre forwards, all these modern positions 
and players who play in these positions.

“But I thought it was right that we try to seek out an experienced striker. I left Steven alone in the summer because I knew he was recuperating from injuries but I always had him in my mind. If there is pressure on him to deliver for Scotland, then he can 
handle it. He has been that kind of player all his career.”

Swansea’s Oli McBurnie, yet to score in six appearances for Scotland, is the only other out-and-out centre forward in the squad and McLeish believes the 22-year-old will benefit from Fletcher’s presence.

“I’m not saying Steven has got all the answers. But some of the younger players can learn off him. A guy like Fletcher can be a big influence,” said McLeish.