Hearts forward Steven Naismith believes he seized his moment and proved a point in Scotland’s 2-0 win against Albania last night. His effort ricocheted off Berat Xhimshiti to open the scoring before he headed his country’s second goal in the Nations League tie at Hampden Park.
Having been left out of Alex McLeish’s original squad, Naismith felt he had to make a serious impact on the national coach or risk being left out again. He was called up last Monday to replace Oli McBurnie after starting the season with seven goals in eight games for Hearts.
He is now nearing 50 caps after featuring in Friday’s 4-0 friendly loss to Belgium and then starring in last night’s success. The 31-year-old, who is on loan at Tynecastle Park from Norwich City, stressed he is eager to stay in the Scotland squad and has no plans to retire after his goalscoring display.
“I’d felt I’d given myself as good a chance as possible of getting in the squad,” he explained. “I was left out but with the call-offs, the manager phoned and asked me to come in.
“When that happened, I thought: ‘I have to make an impression here or that’s me done, really.’ So I worked hard during the week in training. If there was a point to be made and the manager wanted to know something, I told him what I thought.
“The manager gave me the opportunity, I was rewarded with a start and I made an impact. Was it my last chance? You never know. Circumstances can change.
“If I’d continued on the same way I started the season with Hearts, I would have put pressure on to get in the squad. I am just grateful to get a chance and be part of a young squad starting out – just like me ten years ago.”
Asked if retiring from Scotland duty ever crossed his mind, he replied: “I think I’ll always keep going. If it had an effect on my club career then that’s when you maybe start to think.
“I missed a bit of football last season and then enjoyed it towards the end of the season. I’m just going to enjoy every minute of every game I play in.”
Naismith said he feels he can score in every match due to soaring confidence. He headed against the post from close range in the first half but recovered with two vital interventions for the goals after the break.
“Yeah, I knew I would get chances even after the one I headed off the post,” he said. “As you get older, you’ve got a bit more calmness about you in the box in those precise moments. That has definitely helped me this season.”
He was disappointed to learn he was not credited with the first Scotland goal. “So I’ve been told. I scored one it’s still a good start. When you’re playing as a striker with Scotland, the question is about goals, goals, goals.
“Callum McGregor had three or four efforts blocked. If he had scored the goals, I don’t care. And I don’t care what anybody says – we’ve won and we’re moving forward.
“It was a great win. It was really enjoyable to be part of that kind of performance. A lot of credit goes to the younger boys for the way we played. Reading some of the comments after the Belgium game, I was asking myself: ‘Did we not just play the team ranked second in the world?’
“Guys like John Souttar, Kieran Tierney and even Andy Robertson as captain are starting out their Scotland careers. There is pressure on them but they were brave enough to still get on the ball and carry the play forward.
“That’s what the manager wants and they did it. It would be easy for the younger players to crumble, but they didn’t. I was thinking before the game: ‘This is a test, how will these guys react?’
“Even at half-time at 0-0, it would have been easy to go direct and play into Albania’s hands. We didn’t do that. We put good balls into the box and it paid off with the win.”