Steven Naismith hails Fletcher’s Scotland return

Steven Naismith: Hoping for recall. Picture: Jane Barlow
Steven Naismith: Hoping for recall. Picture: Jane Barlow
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STEVEN Naismith would be entitled to feel a little hard done to while he spent most of Friday evening at Hampden on the sidelines.

After the excellence of his displays in leading the line for Scotland in their two previous games against Macedonia and Croatia, the Everton forward was still left out of the match against the USA in order to accommodate Steven Fletcher’s return to the side.

But there are no gripes with manager Gordon Strachan’s decision from Naismith who accepts Fletcher’s status as the country’s number one front man.

“I wasn’t too disappointed not to start on Friday,” said Naismith. “You’re not going to bring someone of Fletch’s quality into the squad and not start him.

“I thought that he was one of the real positives for us against the USA. Over the years he’s matured into a great striker, which he’s shown at club level, so the more games we can give him for Scotland, the better.

“The manager spoke to me about it beforehand. You just have to deal with it. We’ve got the two games during this gathering and I hope to play a bigger part in the second game.”

With Fletcher having been allowed to return to his club, Sunderland, in order to aid his progress towards full match fitness following his recent shoulder injury, Naismith seems certain to return to Strachan’s starting line-up against Norway tomorrow night. The 27-year-old says Scotland will be seeking improvement on what they produced in the goalless draw with the Americans.

“It was a pretty flat game on Friday,” he said. “There weren’t many chances, but it was another step forward for us in terms of defending and improving the shape of the team.

“Neither team created too many great chances and it wasn’t a fast-flowing game, but friendlies can be like that sometimes. The USA beat us 5-1 over there 18 months ago and now we’ve drawn 0-0 with them, so it shows you how far we’ve come that we’re disappointed with that result.

“We didn’t play as fluently as we have done but there were a few boys coming in who maybe haven’t been in the side too often recently and they were given a chance to show the manager what they can do. The USA are 13th in the world rankings but we’re at the stage where we want to keep our momentum going and the way to do that is with wins. However, we can at least look back and see how well we did defensively.

“In Norway, we want to build on Friday night’s performance and play a bit better, pass the ball better and increase the tempo of our game. Against the USA, the pitch cut up pretty badly and that worked against us because, in the two previous games against Croatia and Macedonia, we’d knocked the ball about pretty well and dominated possession.

“However, we know it will be tough in Norway. They are a good side and we’ll need to be at our best against them.”

Naismith, who won his 26th Scotland cap as a late substitute for Barry Bannan on Friday, was delighted to see his former Kilmarnock team-mate Gordon Greer make his debut at the age of 32 against the USA. The Brighton central defender, who helped Scotland keep only their fourth clean sheet in the nine games they have played under Strachan, was an influential figure in Naismith’s own development at Rugby Park.

“One of the first things I noticed about him at Kilmarnock is that his standards were really high,” said Naismith. “He demanded a lot from you, no matter what age you were, during games and at training. That definitely rubbed off on me.

“Gordon has been very patient. He’s a guy with a lot of experience and he’d come on a lot of Scotland trips and not be required, so it was fantastic to see him out there making his debut on Friday.

“Towards the end of our World Cup campaign, he was being picked for our squads on merit and it’s a position where we maybe haven’t had too much competition for places recently so it’s good that he did so well.

“He’s given the manager another option. He made some good interceptions and blocks against the USA and he’s definitely a player the manager can rely on. It was a solid start.”