Scotland claim welcome win over Albania

Alex McLeish (Getty Images)
Alex McLeish (Getty Images)

Glasgow - Steven Naismith was on target as Scotland marked Alex McLeish's first competitive match since coming back for a second spell as manager by recording a 2-0 win over Albania at a sodden Hampden on Monday.

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The 31-year-old Hearts forward Naismith had an eventful night, forcing Berat Xhimshiti into scoring the own goal that put Scotland ahead just after half-time before he scored the second goal that clinched the victory.

After losing five of their last six games - all of them friendlies - and scoring only once in that time, Scotland needed this as they begin their latest quest to qualify for a first major tournament since 1998.

This was their first game in the new UEFA Nations League, a competition which offers the carrot of a possible qualifying spot for Euro 2020.

After this result, they are level with Albania on three points in Group 1 of the third-tier League C.

Back in the job after a previous spell in 2007, McLeish faces a huge challenge reviving the fortunes of a struggling side, and persuading long-suffering supporters to attend games again.

Just as for Friday's 4-0 friendly thumping by Belgium, Hampden - which will host four matches at Euro 2020 - was sparsely populated for this game on a dreary Glasgow evening.

Naismith produced a remarkable miss midway through the first half when he headed against the post from just two yards out after Charlie Mulgrew had nodded down a John McGinn free-kick.

The same player then had the ball in the net just before the interval, diverting Callum McGregor's effort past Thomas Strakosha, but he was just offside and the flag came up.

With Southampton's Stuart Armstrong on at the interval, Scotland stepped things up after the break and took the lead within two minutes of the restart.

Captain Andy Robertson's cross was headed towards goal by Naismith at the back post, and the unfortunate Xhimshiti helped the ball in.

Albania coach Christian Panucci had scored a stoppage-time winner for Italy at Hampden to knock McLeish's Scotland out of qualifying for Euro 2008.

His side, who beat Israel 1-0 in their first group game on Friday, had chances to draw level, notably when Bekim Balaj forced Allan McGregor into a fine save.

But Scotland doubled their lead midway through the second half as Strakosha came for a corner and missed it, allowing Naismith to head into an empty net.

Spirits have been lifted, but a bigger test surely awaits Scotland in Israel next month.

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