ALEX McLEISH has no regrets about dropping Leigh Griffiths for the game against Albania and replacing him with Hearts attacker Steven Naismith – who was not even selected in the original squad for the international double header.
The Scotland manager stuck by his decision yesterday as he looked back on the two games at Hampden and he remained steadfast that his decision was correct. There was no injury to Leigh Griffiths, he was dropped for the Albania game, as the Scotland manager made clear.
“It was a big call but, listen, I’ve had to make these calls before,” McLeish said. McLeish clearly reckons that this decision gave him a sporting advantage.
“He’s not playing as a starter for Celtic at the moment — only in some games. Naisy is there every single week for Hearts and I know what Griff can do.
“I think he was a little bit isolated in the Belgium game and, let’s face it, it was almost mission impossible for him the other night. But again, we know what he can do. He came on and had a free-kick in his favourite position and it’s always good if he can get a goal. He’s still very valuable to us.
“But I know some of the players who didn’t play will get annoyed. That’s just a fact of the game.
“They will be annoyed and some of them will be p***** off with me but I hope that in 24 hours they calm down and they are willing to go again for us, because they’re so important as we build a new era.
“We have lost some senior players over the last year or 18 months and a lot of young guys have come into the team.
“We’ll have different systems at different times. There are some guys in great form who never played and they must be gutted. But if I’d put some in certain positions against Albania, I’d be fielding questions about playing players out of position.”
McLeish also indicated that Naismith is now the main man up top for Scotland, with Leigh Griffiths relegated to the bench. That’s how it is going to be for the next game against Israel – who last night lost 3-0 to Northern Ireland in a friendly in Belfast.
“It will be hard to say that I’m not playing him now against Israel. But it depends on form over the next few weeks.
“Naisy knows the standards he has to keep up but he’s a player who’s been round the block. He’s got tactical nous. He’s a team player and he knows the positions to go into when we don’t have the ball.”
And Griffiths wasn’t the only member of the Invincible Celtic side to suffer a demotion at the hands of the Scotland manager, who accepted millions of pounds from David Murray through an EBT to avoid taxes.
James Forrest never kicked a ball against either Belgium or Albania, despite being a key member of Brendan Rodgers’ Championship winning side. McLeish seems unconvinced though.
“If I’d played him, I’d be getting questions about why I played him out of position.
“James can play there but it’s not his favourite position and he’s excelled with Celtic in the three forwards system.
“I was very aware of that and James was one of the few guys I got to speak to after the match. I told him we wouldn’t be playing 3-5-2 all the time and there will be times when we need him in wide areas.”
And despite Allan McGregor currently serving a lifetime ban for playing for Scotland, he is now clearly the number one keeper in McLeish’s blue eyes so Craig Gordon can expect to be seated alongside his Celtic teammates on that Scotland bench.