Scotland manager Gordon Strachan today praised Steven Naismith and fellow goalscorer Robert Snodgrass after they overcame some early teething problems to prosper in a new-look attack against Croatia last night.
For the second Scotland game running, Naismith, normally a wide player, spearheaded a 4-2-3-1 formation, but this time with Snodgrass, also predominantly a winger, providing support from a No. 10 role in the absence of Shaun Maloney.
After seeing the move fail to reap instant dividends as Croatia dominated early on in their World Cup Group A encounter at Hampden, Strachan had to enter his technical area and implore the pair not to let themselves become an out-and-out front two.
They heeded his advice and, within minutes, Snodgrass had nodded Scotland in front before Naismith tied up a 2-0 victory with 17 minutes of the match remaining. “Robert played an unusual role for him,” said the manager. “We were short of strength in attacking positions but Robert did well in there. He got a wonderful goal and hit the post and did a lot of good things.
“But his wee mate Naismith was terrific – everything about him. He’s not the world’s greatest player but talk about a big heart. He allows the other players in the team to play an makes them better. He does lots of things for the team. He wins headers, takes free kicks and works incredibly hard, so it was good to see him score the goal.
“I wasn’t unhappy with Snodgrass and Naisy before the goal, but I had to remind them of their roles. They were playing too flat to each other, like two strikers, which is not what we were after, but it worked out well after that.”
After completing the World Cup qualifying campaign with three wins in four games, Strachan says his team have come on in leaps and bounds since the alarming 2-1 defeat at home to Wales in his first competitive game seven months ago.
“That performance was a big difference from the first game against Wales,” he explained. “The players have gradually turned things round and they can be really proud of themselves. You can’t just go straight to having confidence. You’ve got to dig it out with results and performances. You’ve got to take a few knocks physically and mentally, but eventually it gets better.
“It grows within the crowd as well and the players feel that. If the whole stadium becomes more confident, it makes us all feel better. It was good to hear the fans all singing the anthem towards the end. When you’re Scotland manager – you want to make the nation happy and hopefully we’ve done that. It was a nice way to finish the week off – I don’t like to look at it as the end of a campaign. It’s been an enjoyable week, but there’s been a lot of hard work and when you put that hard work in, it’s always nice to get a good performance and a win.”