McLeish hails Scotland stars after reaching Nations League play-offs

For Alex McLeish, it was the perfect outcome to an imperfect campaign. Scotland had qualified for the Nations League play-offs - and a new Tartan Army hero had emerged.
James Forrest's stunning hat-trick against Israel made the Celtic winger the first Scot to score two or more goals in back-to-back internationals since Denis Law in 1963. There's little doubt his place in future McLeish line-ups is now assured.
Yet, it was not just Forrest who made the difference on a night when things threatened, at times, to turn sour for the Scots.
Indeed, it took a stunning Allan McGregor save from substitute Tomer Hemed to prevent the Israelis snatching top spot in the group during a tense, nervous finale.
A month ago, the Scots had thrown away a lead against Tuesday night's opponents in Haifa, losing 2-1 after a lamentable second-half display. Here, they had to show their mettle as they battled back from the loss of an early Beram Kayal goal.
Relieved to see his team guarantee a one-leg home semi-final play-off against likely opponents Finland in March 2020, however, McLeish insisted his players answered a lot of questions.
'It feels perfect to me because the goal was to win the game and we did that,' he said.
'We'll look at the video and look to improve - but the lads played to a fantastic intensity. We played it extremely professionally and to keep that high intensity tonight was a wee bit of task.
'You saw some of them flagging because Israel had a couple more days rest than us. But I'm so proud of the guys and we answered a lot of questions.
'We got pulled about a wee bit at the start. We had to adjust the shape of the team, their wing backs were getting a bit of freedom.
'We wanted Callum (Paterson) and Andy (Robertson) out to them quicker. We adjusted the midfield a bit to make it easier for them. Unfortunately, that was after a great strike from (Beram) Kayal. For the next 60-odd minutes, we were fantastic.
'We were quite comfortable again until they got the second with another long-range strike. They hit us with those sucker punches tonight.'
The Scots prevailed thanks to a stunning run of five games in two games for Celtic winger Forrest.
'James' goals over the two games are amazing,' continued McLeish, who dedicated the victory to his new-born granddaughter Rosie. 'We put him behind Matt Phillips in Hungary and he had a few chances, so we felt he could score for us.
'He does it with his club, as well. He is in phenomenal form.
'I complimented him after Saturday and tonight his finishing was unerring.
'To see them nestling just inside the post was fantastic. Any striker would be proud of that.'
Full of praise for Rangers goalkeeper McGregor's crucial instinctive save in the dying minutes, McLeish added: 'Greegsy's save was a fantastic, world-class save at that time in the game. He's done that all season.'
The Scots secured their first play off place in 15 years despite the late withdrawal of nine players before Saturday's 4-0 win over Albania.
McLeish insisted those who called off are still in his plans despite the fine displays of the last two games, saying: 'We are too small a country to ignore other players.
'You are doing disrespect to the players who are out and the medical people who assessed them if you think they don't want to play for Scotland.
'But the guys tonight gave us a real shot in the arm. It's there for the players who have done so well in these two games to keep it going.
'What we saw was more of a team with familiarity, players who have played together at club level and with a good understanding.'
A point for Israel would have ended Scotland's hopes of topping the three-team group and afterwards coach Andreas Herzog was devastated to miss out.
'The first 25 minutes were exactly what I wanted,' he said. 'But then we lost control and Scotland put more pressure on us. We stepped too deep and couldn't be aggressive on the ball.
'Over the 90 minutes, Scotland were the better team. We gave them their goals too easily.
'We started the game well and finished it well but we didn't do enough. The quality and the luck were on the Scottish side tonight.' 

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