Scotland get Nations League campaign off to perfect start
Alex McLeish’s side saw off Albania at Hampden Park
Scotland’s Steven Naismith celebrates scoring their second goal during the Nations League win over Albania. Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Scotland 2 Albania 0
Scotland began their Nations League campaign with an encouraging 2-0 win over Albania at Hampden Park.
Alex McLeish’s side had suffered a chastening 4-0 defeat by Belgium on Friday night but they bounced back in their opening Group C1 fixture, taking the lead two minutes after the break when Steven Naismith’s header went in off defender Berat Xhimshiti.
The Hearts attacker, a late call-up, headed in the second in the 68th minute to clinch three points and a welcome win for McLeish, whose side went into the game with one win in five friendly matches and having scored only one goal.
Scotland’s next fixture in a three-team group is away to Israel on October 11th and McLeish’s side will travel with a lot more confidence than they had after being dismantled by the Red Devils.
There was an element of surprise in the former Scotland defender’s selection for his first competitive match in his second spell as boss.
Allan McGregor replaced Craig Gordon in goal, with defender Stephen O’Donnell and attacker Johnny Russell making their first competitive starts and Naismith back leading the attack.
Gordon, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths dropped to the bench, with Ryan Fraser out through injury.
The Tartan Army had stayed away in their droves on a miserably wet night in Glasgow, with the stadium less than half full and the few thousand Albania fans making the most noise.
However, Scotland started the first meeting between the two countries in positive fashion.
Midfielder Callum McGregor and defender Charlie Mulgrew drew saves from keeper Thomas Strakosha with their respective free-kicks and belief grew, although the finishing touch to a series of moves was absent.
Scotland should have scored in the 23rd minute when John McGinn’s lofted free-kick into the box was headed across goal by Mulgrew to Naismith but from six yards the former Rangers and Everton forward headed off the post with the ball speeding back across goal and away to safety.
There was more frustration four minutes from the break when Naismith had the ball in the net from a Callum McGregor cross only to be ruled offside.
The second half was barely two minutes old when skipper Andy Robertson’s deep cross to the back post was met by Naismith whose header came off Xhimshiti and into his own net.
There was tangible relief among the Scots fans but that almost turned into despair moments later when Albania striker Bekim Balaj found himself with only Allan McGregor to beat but the Rangers keeper stuck out a leg to deflect the shot.
The visitors, coming out of their shell for the first time, threatened as they moved forward and Balaj volleyed a cross from Emanuele Ndoj over the bar.
However, the Scots relaxed when Naismith was on hand to head a McGinn corner into an empty net, after the ball had only been partially cleared by defender Frederic Veseli with keeper Strakosha in no man’s land.
Griffiths replaced Russell almost immediately and a rejuvenated Scotland went looking for a third but were more than happy with what they had garnered by full time.