Alex McLeish: Win was shot in the arm for game in Scotland

Scotland manager Alex McLeish hailed the win over Hungary in Budapest. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Scotland manager Alex McLeish hailed the win over Hungary in Budapest. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Alex McLeish described Scotland’s victory over Hungary in Budapest as a much-needed boost following a turbulent few months for the Scottish national team.

McLeish found some relief on Tuesday by picking up his first win since returning to the job thanks to Matt Phillips’ second-half goal.

He hailed his older, more experienced players yesterday, several of whom helped clinch the victory, and assured them they still had a part to play in his plans. “Their careers are not over,” he said. But McLeish hailed the impact of young centre-halves Jack Hendry and Scott McKenna.

McKenna, 21, won his first cap in the 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica last week while Hendry’s debut came in Tuesday’s win. He was not even named in the original squad. “I would love to see these guys going on to get many, many caps for Scotland,” said McLeish.

Referring to the win, the first of his second spell in charge, McLeish said it was a “shot in the arm” for Scottish football and supporters who have endured a difficult time in recent times.

The SFA is preparing to lose another chief executive – interim appointment Andrew McKinlay steps down at the end of May.

The ripples are still being felt following a traumatic few months with the SFA having
dispensed with a manager,
Gordon Strachan, after World Cup qualifying failure and lost a chief executive, Stewart Regan, who resigned after failure to land first choice Michael O’Neill as Strachan’s replacement.

McLeish is well aware he was second choice and that his appointment was met with coolness by some fans. Pressure grew following Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica. But there were signs of improvement on Tuesday and McLeish admitted he was relieved to have got his reign up and running.

While he handed out seven new caps over the course of the two games, McLeish said there was still a future for the old guard. The manager relied on players such as Celtic’s Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and James Forrest, omitted from the starting XI against Costa Rica, to ease the pressure building on him on Tuesday. They helped ensure McLeish emitted a palpable sense of relief.

“You think I didn’t feel that?” he said. “I had to stick to what I was doing. I didn’t have any regrets about what I’ve done in the last couple of games, bringing a lot of new faces in.

“We have got guys out there who are tried and trusted. And their careers are not over. What we’ve seen over the two games is young guys getting blooded and showing that they want to be a part of it. Now with the evidence of winning a game, they will all be wanting to play.”

“It gives everyone a shot in the arm,” he added, when asked about the long-term effects following such a difficult period. “Long may it continue.”

He described Armstrong as a “real asset” and praised McGregor. The Celtic pair’s arrival against Costa Rica helped change momentum and they were key against Hungary.

“He (Armstrong) has played at a good level for the last couple of years now and he has grown with each season at Celtic,” he said. “You could see the leadership from him. Others fed off him.”

As for McGregor, who won only his third cap on Tuesday, McLeish said: “He can play just about anywhere. He takes the ball and finds space, where we asked him to find space. He does not necessarily have to run everywhere all over the pitch, he can stand still sometimes. He has those pictures in his head. He has that technique and it is very effective.”

Quizzed on his own expressive demeanour against Hungary compared to a few nights earlier, when he was a less visible presence on the touchline, he said: “Against Costa Rica, I wanted to have a look from a higher point just to see the shape of the guys and try to get a better judgment.

“I kind of sat back a wee bit in the Hampden game but I like to kick every ball and try and make it possible for people on the other side of the pitch to hear. I see Guardiola doing it and Conte doing it. I used to do it as well.

“Sometimes some people say: ‘what are you standing there shouting for, they won’t hear you on the other side of the park shouting and moaning’. As I said, when Mourinho did it or Conte it was ‘look at their passion’. And I am a tube for doing it!”