Hearts’ Steven Naismith set to be Scotland’s No 1 striker

Stephen Naismith, right, was back in top form for Scotland against Albania on Monday. Picture: Getty.
Stephen Naismith, right, was back in top form for Scotland against Albania on Monday. Picture: Getty.
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Steven Naismith is set to continue as Scotland’s first-choice striker providing he can maintain form and fitness ahead of next month’s trip to face Israel.

The Hearts striker took his chance in Monday night’s 2-0 win over Albania after being recalled to the side, scoring once and playing a significant part in the opener.

Alex McLeish is ready to reward the 31-year-old with another start in Haifa as Scotland, top seeds in their group, aim to build on a good start to the Nations League. It’s a remarkable change of fortunes for Naismith after he was not even included in the original squad for the games against Belgium and Albania. Oli McBurnie’s withdrawal saw him called up on the same weekend as he scored a hat-trick against St Mirren.

Naismith played for a half against Belgium after replacing Leigh Griffiths and enjoyed a productive 90 minutes against Albania.

If he plays the rest of the Nations League campaign as well as against Portugal in next month’s friendly he will reach 50 caps by the end of November.

He has now scored eight goals in his last nine appearances for club and country.

“It will be hard to say that I’m not playing him now [against Israel],” said McLeish. “You guys would be the first to question me on that one. But it depends on form over the next few weeks. Naisy knows the standards he has to keep up but he’s a player who’s been round the block.

“He’s got good tactical nous. He’s a team player and he knows the positions to go into when we don’t have the ball.”

McLeish acknowledged that picking Naismith over Griffiths raised many eyebrows. He is confident Griffiths will bounce back from the setback of being dropped from the starting XI. The Celtic striker appeared only for the last 20 minutes as a replacement for Johnny Russell.

“Listen, I’ve had to make these calls before,” said McLeish. “He’s not playing as a starter for Celtic at the moment – only in some games. Naisy is there every single week for Hearts and I know what Griff can do.

“I think he was a little bit isolated in the Belgium game and let’s face it, it was almost mission impossible for him the other night. But again, we know what he can do.

“He came on and had a free-kick in his favourite position and it’s always good if he can get a goal. He’s still very valuable to us.

“They will get annoyed,” he added. “That’s just a fact of the game. They will be annoyed and some of them will be p****d off with me. But I hope that in 24 hours they calm down and they are willing to go again for us because they are so important to us as we build a new era.”