James Forrest has lit a fire under the Scotland national team that the whole country can warm to.
The negativity around Scotland has melted away like a spring thaw, after two goal-laden performances ensured Scotland would have a puncher’s chance of making the European Championships.
The familiar gut-punch of anguish that has gone hand-in-hand with watching Scotland threatened to rear its head again, but for Allan McGregor’s decisive intervention, and in one movement of his right hand the Rangers goalkeeper single-handedly released the pressure valve.
The ingredients are there for a Scotland side to get genuinely excited about. Energetic, quick-thinking, pacy players, who are in form and played in their best positions; not a novel idea but one that has bore fruit for an under-pressure Alex McLeish.
Forrest, Ryan Christie and Ryan Fraser – a triple-threat of tasty final-third creativity – should epitomise the good feeling. They were three of Scotland’s most impressive players during the Albania and Israel games, where as an attacking-midfield three behind Steven Fletcher they wreaked havoc served up the most appetising chances.
Behind them, Callum McGregor was the conductor-in-chief and arguably the most complete all-round footballer in country. He’s played out wide and in the 10 role for Celtic and now, with Scott Brown injured, has dropped deeper at club level. He replicated that role for country and is never less than impressive.
Graeme Shinnie celebrates at the final whistle against Israel.Stuart Armstrong gave Scotland an injection of drive when they badly needed it. In danger of letting the tempo flat-line after Beram Kayal’s goal, Armstrong took it upon himself to carry the ball into threatening areas, gliding past white shirts and unsettling the staid Israel back-line. Considering the relentless John McGinn is still to come in, McLeish’s midfield options look strong.
Graeme Shinnie’s introduction as a second-half substitute was pleasing, as it showed McLeish trusts the Dons skipper in pivotal moments. Shinnie’s industry and combative nature served his country well, at a time when the opposition sought to drive a stake through Scotland’s hopes.
Kieran Tierney is still to come back into this team and hopefully McLeish pencils him in at right-back. Callum Paterson lacked positional awareness in both games and gaps were left down the right flank. It may be a case of playing Tierney out of position but if the system works, he is talented enough to accommodate. Plus, Phillip Lahm started his international career as a right-footed left-back and it did not do him much harm.
McLeish has earned a reprieve by adapting a stalling setup and delivering these results, prompting energy to course through Scotland’s veins again.