MX23RW : Friday, January 18 07:50:55

Armstrong: Scotland always believed in Nations League success

Armstrong: Scotland always believed in Nations League success
© Reuters
The Scots secured top spot in their group by beating Albania and Israel.

Stuart Armstrong claimed Scotland's self-belief never wavered despite widespread scepticism from outside the camp.

Scotland secured top spot in Nations League Group C1 after scoring seven goals in their final two games against Albania and Israel.

Five weeks earlier things had not looked so positive as a 2-1 defeat in Israel – a scoreline that flattered the visitors – put manager Alex McLeish and his team under pressure.

With Matt Ritchie, Robert Snodgrass, Tom Cairney and James McArthur making themselves unavailable for the crunch games, the continued absence of Leigh Griffiths and injuries to the likes of Steven Naismith, Craig Gordon, John McGinn, Kevin McDonald, Kieran Tierney, Charlie Mulgrew, John Souttar, Stephen O'Donnell and Michael Devlin reducing McLeish's options, Scotland were on the ropes.

But the withdrawals seemed to galvanise the players and simplify the selection choices available to McLeish, who ditched his three-man central defence and reintroduced wingers to great effect.

Celtic wide man James Forrest followed his double in Shkoder with a hat-trick against Israel to earn the Scots a 3-2 victory over the pre-match group leaders.

Armstrong said: "There was always that belief in the camp that we could go on and achieve what we wanted to. There's always going to be negativity in football when things aren't going the way they are expected to, or people want them to.

"But as modern-day professionals, you just need to focus on your job at hand and not get bogged down with what's happening on the periphery."

That belief was evident as Scotland recovered from a poor start at Hampden when Beram Kayal was given too much space to shoot from 25 yards. The Brighton midfielder only scored three goals during four and a half seasons with Celtic but he added another to his Glasgow collection.

Armstrong and Forrest in particular kick-started Scotland's comeback with some decisive forward play and McLeish's side were coasting at 3-1 before a late goal forced them into some nervy defensive moments.

But the Scots refused to crumble and Armstrong believes their mental strength was evident.

"It was a bit of a sloppy start from us, we weren't very pleased with the first goal but we showed character to get back into the game and James Forrest was excellent with his three goals, very composed finishes," the Southampton player said.

"Our performance over in Albania was terrific and it set us up perfectly for this game, and I thought we came through it excellently. Even at the dying death, we managed to see it out and we were very pleased we managed to achieve that play-off spot."

Scotland now turn their attentions to the regular qualifying route for the 2020 European Championship, with a place in pot three secured ahead of the draw on December 2.

But they have the fall-back option of a play-off with Finland provisionally earmarked for a semi-final trip to Hampden in March 2020. However, the likes of Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary could be involved after finishing second in their League C sections.

For now Armstrong is happy to revel in the moment.

"I think that's something for the future, and when it comes round we can start thinking about that," the 26-year-old said. "As for the moment, we are delighted with what we have achieved and it's very positive for the country."

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James Forrest completes his hattrick for Scotland on November 20, 2018
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