Steven Naismith is poised to lead the line for Scotland again tonight, with manager Steve Clarke revealing he has reached an agreement with Hearts interim head coach Austin MacPhee over the 33-year-old striker’s involvement.
Naismith, pictured right, has been bedevilled by knee and thigh injuries over the past 18 months and only recently returned to action for the Tynecastle club.
There was a moment of alarm on Saturday when Naismith, captaining Scotland on his 50th appearance for his country, collapsed in apparent agony shortly before he was substituted in the 2-1 win over Cyprus in Nicosia.
But Clarke insists there is no concern over Naismith’s condition ahead of Scotland’s final Euro 2020 Group I qualifier against Kazakhstan at Hampden.
Hearts will be anxious that Naismith is fit enough for their Premiership fixture against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Saturday but that won’t influence Clarke’s decision on whether he starts against Kazakhstan.
“Steven Naismith is fine,” said Clarke. “If I choose to start him, he is desperate to play.
“I had a chat with Austin MacPhee before the international break and he’s quite happy for me to manage the player as I see fit. If I felt Steven wasn’t fully fit, I wouldn’t risk him.
“He didn’t have an injury on Saturday. The substitution for Steven was always planned between 60 and 65 minutes. The fact he fell over just before he came off was unfortunate! He’s 100 per cent fine.
“He has to get more minutes tomorrow because he is fit and available to play. Obviously I want to respect all the clubs and I wouldn’t put a player at risk in terms of injury. But, fitness-wise, Steven is fine.”
Naismith’s performance in Cyprus was widely praised as the veteran brought his customary game intelligence to a position that has been a problem for a succession of Scotland managers.
As the countdown begins in earnest towards the Euro 2020 play-offs next March, Clarke views Naismith as an integral part of his plans to try to lead Scotland back to a major tournament finals for the first time since 1998.
“When you look at Steven’s experience, his 50 caps speak for themselves,” added Clarke. “It’s 50 caps with a couple of long injury breaks in there as well, so it tells you how important he has been to previous managers.
“He is important to me, he’s positive in the dressing room. He’s a clever player, a cute player and he can score a goal as well. So he is an important player for us going forward. He’s got a little bit of nous and experience and he uses it well.”
Clarke has no fresh injury concerns for this evening, with Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland having withdrawn on Sunday to be replaced with Kilmarnock’s Eamonn Brophy.
“Everyone else is fine,” said Clarke. “Lawrence picked up a niggle and we chose not to risk him on Saturday in the hope he would make it. But he won’t. It’s only a small injury and I don’t think his club need to be too worried.”