Alex McLeish expressed his satisfaction with a 2-0 win over Albania that fully vindicated his selection choices.
The Scotland manager turned to Steven Naismith in the hope he could cure the international side’s goalscoring problems. The Hearts striker repaid his faith by scoring the second and playing a part in the first, an own goal from Berat Xhimshiti. The result takes Scotland to the top of their Nations League group ahead of a trip to Israel next month and gives McLeish his first competitive victory in his second spell as manager.
“We deserved it,” said McLeish. “We went at them from the first whistle. It was thoroughly deserved and it was good to see the first goal go in – even if it was a deflection.”
McLeish said the result justified his decision to play Naismith ahead of Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. McLeish made four changes to the side that lost 4-0 to Belgium on Friday.
Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell came it at right wingback and Johnny Russell joined Naismith in the forward area.
Allan McGregor replaced Craig Gordon in goal and made two superb stops to help preserve Scotland’s lead.
“I work with the players every day, you guys don’t,” said McLeish. “I think I am well qualified to select who I choose.”
Naismith’s contribution came after he was excluded from the original squad. But an injury to Matt Phillips gave the striker his chance.
“These situations can occur,” said McLeish. “He was suffering with a heel injury and asked to stay at home for the summer tour and let it recover so he could start the season well. “I said if you start the season well I will consider you for selection.
“I did not put him in (originally) but if it is meant to be it is meant to be.
“We gave Albania utmost respect by playing at the top level. This was always the night we felt had to do it.
“I asked them to improve on situations against Belgium – they did that.
“Rome was not built in a day,” he added. “People talk about my win ratio and being under pressure. I know the way football works. I am building a wall here. “I am not papering over cracks. I want to build something with these players.”
McLeish stressed he had a sense Russell and Naismith would work well together. “I wanted to do a pairing (with Russell and Naismith). I had a feeling about Johnny, and Stevie (Naismith) was showing up well in training. “We got Leigh on and he’s still very important to us as are all the guys who didn’t play.
“I love them all – they are playing at good levels and we change the system at times.”
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McLeish challenged his players to build on the performance and result with another win in Haifa next month.
“That’s the goal for us,” he said. “It’s not easy. I can speak personally about a trip to Israel a long time ago when we got battered in the first half.
“We changed at half-time and got a Kenny Dalglish winner.
“It’s never easy away from home but we have the confidence We are building things and the players took heart from some footage we saw from the Belgium game.
“We have to empower them and in some moments the passing has been good. We are a work in progress.”