Albania vs Scotland - Alex McLeish: All nine Scotland withdrawals are genuine

Posted Saturday, November 17, 2018 by PA

Albania vs Scotland - Alex McLeish: All nine Scotland withdrawals are genuine

Alex McLeish insists there is “nothing sinister” about the “extraordinary” amount to call-offs from his Scotland squad for the Nations League double-header against Albania and Israel.

Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney returned to the Parkhead club with hamstring tightness on Friday to become the ninth withdrawal ahead of the Group C1 game in Shkoder on Saturday night.

McLeish had to name his original squad without Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths and Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney due to fitness issues, while Crystal Palace’s James McArthur recently announced his retirement from international football.

Sheffield United’s John Fleck has been added to the squad for the game against Israel, who lead the Scots by three points at the top of the table.

Speaking at the Scotland team hotel in Tirana soon after arriving in Albania, McLeish addressed the call-offs, saying: “It is just something that is not in our control.

“It is a little bit of a freak. So it is not something sinister, if you are trying to find a story out of this there is nothing there.

“It is just bad luck, the boys have played to very high levels, they get pushed to the boundaries in training.

“They go to the red zone in training in certain moments and some of them pick up knocks and injuries and unfortunately for us we have had a lot of call-offs at the same time which is maybe extraordinary but there is nothing sinister in it – it is all genuine injuries.”

When asked if he was convinced that everyone who has pulled out wants to play for Scotland, the former Rangers manager said: “Yes. Kieran was bursting to play. John McGinn was bursting to play.

“As I said, there is nothing sinister, so you don’t need to ask that question.

“The amount of players calling off has disrupted the squad in general but – in saying that – we have prepared the whole week, we know what to do.

“Kieran was going to be in the team but we feel we have the players here to get us the results we need.

“Kieran Tierney was desperate to play for us. His attitude was fantastic. But the medical from the doctor and physios decreed that he had to pull out.

“We have to respect what the physios and doctor (say), that is why they are here.

“It is a pity to lose these guys but at the same time I have every confidence in the players that are on this trip.”

McLeish revealed that all the Celtic players in his squad who played for the Hoops on Livingston’s artificial surface – Tierney, James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie – on Sunday had turned up with tightness in their legs.

The former Scotland defender said: “Kieran had a tightness in his hamstring and there was no doubt about it.

“You can’t mess about with these things. Right away he flagged it up. He nursed it over the week.

“We all thought it was due to the fact that Celtic played on Astroturf last week and there was a bit of tightness with all the Celtic guys.”

Asked if he felt that had Tierney played on grass he would have been fit, McLeish said: “I don’t know but the fact that the guys were tight, there is a difference playing on Astroturf.

“I don’t want to criticise Astroturf pitches per se, but the guys came with a little bit of tightness and we said that it would wear off. But Kieran’s seemed to linger.”

Albania coach Christian Panucci wants his side to focus on themselves.

“It is clear we have to score many goals to reach qualification,” he told a press conference. “I have designed schemes and tactics for the game, to achieve a positive result.

“I do not feel pressure and am doing my job with passion and seriously.

“If we come through this, we will be better off. Hopefully tomorrow, people will see what we bring to the field.”

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