Win over Albania feels like a new beginning for Alex McLeish

Alex McLeish declared that he felt a sense of new beginning following the scintillating 4-0 win in Albania last night that moves Scotland to within a win of clinching their Nations League group and earning a Euro 2020 play-off place.
Scotland manager Alex McLeish celebrates after the final whistle in Shkoder. Picture: Adam Davy/PA WireScotland manager Alex McLeish celebrates after the final whistle in Shkoder. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Scotland manager Alex McLeish celebrates after the final whistle in Shkoder. Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire

The Scotland manager was under intense pressure ahead of the thumping success in Shkoder which was delivered through first international goals from James Forrest – who netted a double – and Ryan Fraser, and a penalty by old hand Steven Fletcher.

A raft of call-offs and the dismal defeat in Israel last month had raised questions over McLeish’s suitability for a second spell in charge of his country despite only being appointed in February.

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But the national manager considered that the emphatic nature of the performance against an Albania side reduced to ten men early on following captain Mergim Mavraj’s wild headbutt on Ryan Christie was an emphatic response to those doubting his ability.

Asked whether the result relieved pressure on him, the 59-year-old said: “Football is a bit like that. When they win it’s tough being in the dug-out but it’s in the DNA, it’s in the blood in terms of the pressure. I’m at the start and we’ve had three competitive games and this feels like a start. We’re not shouting anything yet and we have a hard game, but we are up against a team who have been in good form recently.”

Two victories against Albania put Scotland level on six points with an Israel side they must beat at Hampden on Tuesday.

The nature of last night’s win – achieved with only three starters from the morale-sapping reverse in Haifa – and the displays of wide men Fraser and Forrest, imbues McLeish with confidence that the 
play-off berth can be secured at Hampden on Tuesday. “It does inject the belief into the squad and we know that we have a more familiar look to the team tonight and more of a rhythm because they have played together,” he said. “Sometimes you put a team on paper and it looks fantastic and it doesn’t have rhythm, but for it to gel is very heartening.

“We started very well and we knew they would come at us and we controlled the opening exchanges and were very dangerous from the first attack. All in all it was very good.

“Ryan Fraser has been playing at a very high level and we haven’t managed to get him into the team for the qualification games and tonight we got him in and you see what he’s been doing. James has continued the great form. He tracked back in the first half and we never got to see his skills, but in the second half he was fantastic.

“He helped Callum [Paterson] at right-back. He has experience there but he played up front and what a versatile player he is. We go back tonight and get back in the small hours and take stock.

“Guys are in recovery mode. Fletcher has been managing his body for a few months and he was a great leader of the line. One or two guys have tightness but let’s hope it wears off and it’s no tightness that would rule them out. We had a lot of 
call-offs and have called in John Fleck and we will wrap these guys in cotton wool for Tuesday night now.”