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Thoughts from Tirana



Fraser was the spark
Ryan Fraser started the match like a man with something to prove - and maybe he did, given that injuries have prevented him from repeating his outstanding Bournemouth performances for the national team. Within seconds of kickoff he had nicked the ball and raced into the box; whilst that didn't lead to anything it was a taste of things to come. In addition to a fine goal he set up the fourth for James Forrest and was not so much a winger as a blur of energy throughout. And his enthusiasm, along with the quality of his play, set the tone for his teammates.

The players care
There remains a healthy dose of scepticism about many of the calloffs that have plagued the squad for this game. But those who played in Tirana very much gave the impression that they were playing for the manager and the shirt. Even when the match was over as a contest the midfield and forwards continued to press high up the pitch, not least because they could sniff a chance to fill their boots. Subs Matt Phillips and Johnny Russell continued the theme when they came on for the latter stages. After such a disjointed and lethargic effort in Israel this was very welcome.

Is this Callum McGregor's best position?
Last night I couldn't help remembering how Andrea Pirlo started his career as an attacking midfielder whose technique and ability didn't really come to the fore until he dropped into a more deeper role. Obviously Callum McGregor isn't in the same league as the great Italian, but it was striking how comfortable he looked sitting at the base of the midfield, taking the ball off his centre-backs and spraying it all over the park. Obviously he won't play many international opponents as accomodating as ten-man Albania, but in light of his outstanding showings in that position for Celtic recently is it possible that this could turn out to be his strongest position?  Regardless, you can't buy the level of versatility and reliability that he offers.

The case for the defence
I'd rather not play stronger opposition with that back four - particularly since Neil Warnock deleted the file marked 'how to play at right-back' from Callum Paterson's database when he converted him to a forward - but if you've prevented the home side managing a shot on target, you can certainly claim to have had a good game. Scott McKenna doesn't seem to do nerves anyway - he's what you'd get if Skynet designed central defenders instead of Terminators - and whilst David Bates always looks on edge he never actually looked under pressure. I'd rather we didn't play anyone good with those two in front of Allan MacGregor in the near future, but I'd like to think I'd be up for it in two or three years. Surely it's not too much to ask that two of McKenna, Bates and John Souttar can go on to be international class?

Let's not get carried away
Albania were cack, and they played with ten men for three quarters of the game, and the referee awarded us an outrageous penalty. And if we don't beat Israel on Tuesday then it's all for nothing really. But a result and performance as good - and as enjoyable - as that doesn't come around too often for the Scotland national team and even if we shouldn't savour it too much we should give credit where it is due to the players and the manager.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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