John Collins believes Scotland’s hopes of re-igniting their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign hinge on Leigh Griffiths and Steven Naismith being available again.
Scotland have won two and lost two of their opening four group games and face Russia and Belgium, the top two teams, in a vital double-header at Hampden Park in September.
The Scots have been without Griffiths and Naismith for the campaign to date.
Griffhiths has been sidelined since December dealing with personal problems while Naismith, who has still to put pen to paper on a new deal with Hearts, saw his season end in March after a knee injury.
Collins, who was among the last group of players to take Scotland to a major finals, the 1998 World Cup in France, is convinced Scotland can win against Russia with one or the other, or both, in the forward areas.
Scotland have tried Oli McBurnie, Callum Paterson, Oliver Burke and Kilmarnock’s Eamonn Brophy through the middle in recent matches with varying degrees of success.
“No disrespect to young Brophy,” said Collins. “He’s had a good season for Kilmarnock and came in and worked. But he’s maybe one for the future.
“It’s a huge step-up especially against teams like Belgium and Russia if not Cyprus or San Marino. When you’re up against teams fighting for a qualifying place you’re up against quality.
“Leigh Griffiths has proved what he can do when he is firing on all cylinders,” added the former Hibs and Celtic midfielder. “He needs to get himself fit and back playing regularly for Scotland.
“Only then will he be an option for the Scotland manager. But he is a finisher. He’s got a left foot as good as anyone in football.
“Steven Naismith is another. He gives you that hustle, that bustle, that workrate. None of them were available.
“If they were back could I see Scotland getting a result against Russia. They would definitely make the team better.”
Collins would also like to see a return for Steven Fletcher, who he managed at Hibs. Now at Sheffield Wednesday, the striker has missed the last four Scotland games because he is managing injury issues.
“He came back into the national team at the end of the year and played a couple of excellent games for the national team,” said Collins. “He’s a different type of striker to Leigh. He holds it up and retains possession with his back to goal.”
Collins said he saw “a lot of positives” in Tuesday’s defeat to Belgium. The Scots kept the team ranked No 1 in the world until first-half injury time, when Romelu Lukaku scored the first of Belgium’s three goals.
“We were organised when we lost the ball and everybody worked their socks off,” he said.
“I think it was evident for all to see what we have to work on, and that is retaining possession.”