Scotland opened their UEFA Nations League campaign in winning fashion as Steven Naismith’s double secured a 2-0 triumph over Albania.
Following a dominant first half in which Scotland had failed to find a breakthrough, Naismith, who is on loan at Hearts from Norwich City, netted just 70 seconds after the interval to give Alex McLeish’s men a winning start to their group C1 campaign.
The victory sees the Scots – who were playing their first ever match of the newly-introduced tournament – a winning start which sees them go level on three points with Christian Pannucci’s Albanians, with their next match away to Israel on October 11.
Alex McLeish made four changes for Scotland’s first ever Nations League fixture, from the side which was defeated 4-0 by Belgium in Friday’s friendly.
Allan McGregor was drafted in between the sticks, while Stephen O’Donnell, Naismith and Johnny Russell also started. Craig Gordon, Leigh Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong dropped to the bench, with Bournemouth’s former Aberdeen winger Ryan Fraser out of the squad entirely.
The national stadium was far from full for the visit of the Albanians, who had started their group campaign with a 1-0 victory over Israel on Friday. The Scots made a promising start however, with Callum McGregor seeing a free kick well tipped over by goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, before John Souttar was unable to scramble home his first international goal from the resulting corner.
It was a dominant start from the hosts, with Charlie Mulgrew’s free kick causing uncertainty for Strakosha on 10 minutes, with the goalkeeper holding at the second attempt.
The Scots continued to dictate, with Russell seeing an effort superbly blocked by Berat Xhimshiti after skipper Andy Robertson had returned O’Donnell’s delivery into the middle.
The visitors had largely been camped inside their own half, with their first effort not arriving until the 22nd minute, when Sabien Lilaj lashed harmlessly over from the edge of the box.
The Scots spurned a glorious chance to take the lead just two minutes later, when John McGinn’s free kick was nodded across goal by Mulgrew to set up Naismith, but he somehow guided his header on to the post from point-blank range.
Scotland thought their breakthrough had finally arrived four minutes before the interval when Naismith guided home McGregor’s through ball, only to be thwarted by an offside flag, however McGinn avoided being punished for a sloppy pass just moments later, with Bekim Balaj stroking wide.
McLeish made a change at the interval, with Kevin McDonald replaced by Armstrong, and he had an immediate impact by playing a part in Scotland’s opener less than two minutes into the second half. Armstrong laid off Robertson, whose cross picked out the head of Naismith at the far post, and he made no mistake on this occasion, although his effort was helped on its way into the net with the aid of a deflection off Xhimshiti.
Despite finally making the breakthrough, Scotland required fine interventions from McGregor shortly afterwards, with the goalkeeper saving well from both Balaj and Lilaj.
Balaj blazed over the target with another effort as Albania looked for a leveller, however Naismith put the game beyond doubt on 68 minutes when McGinn’s corner was nodded on by the head of Albania defender Frederic Veseli, who only succeeded in setting up Naismith to nod past the stranded Strakosha.
The Scots were untroubled on their path to victory in the remaining minutes and could have added further to their lead, with Celtic midfielder McGregor closest to a third with a close-range shot which was deflected over.