Alex McLeish tells Scotland players: show you have ‘got a pair’

Scotland manager Alex McLeish gets ready for flight to Tel Aviv. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
Scotland manager Alex McLeish gets ready for flight to Tel Aviv. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS
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Alex McLeish has challenged his players to show their mettle on a night when Scotland hope to gain the victory that would take them a long way towards the Nations League play-offs.

“It’s a big chance,” stressed McLeish, who looks set to include the in-form Celtic winger James Forrest in his starting line-up.

“The other teams will be thinking they’ve got a great chance as well because we are bracketed at the same kind of level. I watched Israel’s game against Northern Ireland.

“They did lose heavily (0-3) but they actually played some good stuff in the game. We are going to Israel, their territory, and we have to show we have got a pair.”

Leigh Griffiths and Ryan Fraser have pulled out of the squad this week reducing Scotland’s options in attack. More complications followed last night when the Scotland flight into Tel Aviv was delayed. The players did not start training in Haifa, over 90 kilometres away, until 10.30pm local time – an hour later than scheduled.

But McLeish insisted this was not a problem. “It was planned!” he joked. “The players are not tired. To the contrary, they are in fine condition.”

John McGinn and Scott McTominay, pre-match doubts following games for their clubs last weekend, have been passed fit to play.

“It’s getting the mentality to play, it’s getting the ability as young defenders to say: ‘Right, I can smell danger here, I’m going to be in the right position’,” said McLeish. “You have to be proactive.”

Three points would greatly improve Scotland’s Nations League play-off chances. It would give McLeish’s side six points from their opening two games while all but eliminating Israel from the qualifying equation with two matches still to play.

Israel have won only once in their last nine games – against Liechtenstein. They have scored only twice in their last five home outings.

Apathy towards the international side combined with high ticket prices and the fact fewer children will be able to attend a 9.45pm local-time kick off means only around 9,000 are expected to be inside the 30,000 capacity Sammy Ofer stadium in Haifa, including around 2,000 Scotland supporters.

As of last night just 3,000 tickets had been sold. Soldiers are permitted free entry and can gain access by showing their military ID card.

Such circumstances mean Scotland have a good chance to record their first competitive away victory since a 3-0 win over Lithuania in September last year under Gordon Strachan.

They were once team-mates at Aberdeen and now Strachan and McLeish could combine to give Scotland their longest unbeaten run in competitive games since the late 1980s. Strachan’s reign ended after failing to qualify for the play-offs for Euro 2018 following a 2-2 draw in Slovenia. But this was included in a six-game unbeaten run as Scotland recovered under Strachan, only to fall short yet again.

McLeish’s own reign did not get off to the best of starts when he lost four of his first five games in charge. But these were all friendlies.

His second spell as manager got lift-off last month with a 2-0 Nations League win over Albania, his first competitive game.

The last time Scotland enjoyed eight competitive games without defeat was between 1987 and 1989 under Andy Roxburgh. The run, which included wins over Belgium, Bulgaria, Norway and France, came to an end with a 3-1 defeat by Yugoslavia in September 1989.