A much-improved Scotland made a bright start to their Nations League campaign with a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Albania in Glasgow on Monday.
Steven Naismith atoned for a poor first-half miss to play a prominent part in both goals and give Alex McLeish his second victory since returning to the post in February.
The Hearts striker will contest the credit for Berat Djimsiti’s own-goal opener in the 47th minute but there was no doubt over the second he later headed home to cap his country’s confident response to last week’s 4-0 humbling against Belgium.
His goals mean McLeish’s men have ended a run of three matches without scoring on home soil and, more importantly, join their opponents on three points at the top of Group 1 in League C.
Scotland, evidently stimulated by their Belgium embarrassment, were full of endeavour in the early exchanges, swarming forward to Albania’s consistent anxiety.
All that was missing was the reward for effort Naismith remarkably failed to provide when he nodded against the post at point-blank range in the 24th minute, Charlie Mulgrew having climbed to knock down a free-kick.
Redemption initially came with a slice of fortune as the assistant referee failed to spot the 31-year-old straying marginally offside at the far post before heading substitute Stuart Armstrong’s cross in off the unknowing Djimsiti.
Bekim Balaj squandered two opportunities to restore parity but, unlike for his fellow striker, there was to be no reprieve as Naismith instead sealed the result with 22 minutes to play, punishing Thomas Strakosha for flapping at a routine corner.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) September 10, 2018
What it means: Hope yet for Scotland
Played at a sodden Hampden Park against the backdrop of recent disappointment, this could well have been a forgettable night for the paltry crowd in attendance.
McLeish, though, proved true to his pre-match assurance that his second era was to truly begin with this match as a plan that includes changes to shape and style began to take life.
Pat on the back: Souttar a ray of sunshine
On his second Scotland appearance, John Souttar will have been relieved to learn international football does not always mean dealing with Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and company.
Here, the impressive young Hearts centre-back was composed in possession, ferocious in attacking the ball and looked just the kind of player McLeish must build his team around.
Boot up the backside: More to come from McGinn
There was much to admire about John McGinn’s forward-thinking display in the heart of midfield and yet he could so easily have instigated Scotland’s demise.
At fault for Belgium’s opener on Friday, the Aston Villa midfielder was fortunate not to again pay the price for two dozy passes either side of half-time that could well have led to a different result.
Both teams are due to visit Israel in their next Nations League assignments in October, with Scotland to face Portugal and Albania to meet Jordan in friendlies during that international window.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!