By Chris Macmillan & Fraser Clarke
Victory for Scotland in their opening UEFA Nations League game against Albania has handed the national team a much needed boost in their quest to qualify for Euro 2020.
Former international Steven Saunders was pleased with what he saw, particularly from Alex McLeish’s new look defence.
The Livingston defender told UWS News: “When Tierney plays in a back three at Celtic it’s the left of a three at the back because he can step in, and I think the way Scotland wanted to play last night was to dominate possession and build from the back
“The three centre backs that played last night are all comfortable on the ball – they could all play in midfield if they had to. The way Scotland set up meant that you have got good ball-playing defenders there, and you have got people who are tactically aware defensively as well, so I think there was the right mix of experience and young guys coming through.”
BBC Sport commentator Rob Maclean was equally as pleased with the first competitive showing of the McLeish era.
He said: “I liked the team spirit, I think Alex McLeish is trying to create a club style bond for Scotland, and last night was encouraging.
“It’s just the first step, and I think Alex would be the first person to admit that himself, but we’ve got some good players and if we can harness the right sort of system then I think we can make progress.
“It’ll be slow steps towards progress, but certainly winning this group in the Nations Cup would be a good start.”
Former SFA communications chief Darryl Broadfoot was quick to stress the importance of not judging McLeish based on friendly results.
He said: “I do think sometimes we are a nation that revel in a man-made crisis. Of course it hasn’t been an ideal start for the manager, but a lot of those factors were out of his hands.
“Last night was the first competitive test and not only did he pass with one or two bold changes that people pre-match were quick to criticise, but those players who were called upon justified their inclusion. The trick now is to go to Israel and get a victory that actually sets us effectively on our way to the playoffs.
“People expect John McGinn to go from a couple of matches in the Championship in England to becoming an International player without flaw, that just won’t happen. The most important thing is players geting an opportunity when they’re younger.”
Whilst the team’s performance earned positive reviews, Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell was a real surprise star.
Saunders continued: “I played against him in the second game of the season, the boy has got an engine on him. He just kept going for 90 minutes.
“I think if you are not a regular watcher of Kilmarnock, you probably won’t realise how consistent he probably is. I remember him when he was at Partick Thistle and he constantly had good games. Maybe one of his downfalls was he never stood out, but he’s just consistently a very good player and I think it showed last night. He didn’t look over-awed by the occasion at all.”
Maclean added: “I think the big discovery against Albania was undoubtedly Stephen O’Donnell, who previously looked like a good club player and not much more, but he definitely raised the bar with his performance last night.
“He can be a big help, because he helps balance that Scotland back-line.”