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McLeish hails Scotland’s ‘nucleus’ after fresh injury blow

Kieran Tierney has returned to Parkhead on medical advice.

Alex McLeish was dealt another UEFA Nations League blow as Celtic’s Kieran Tierney became the latest player to pull out of the Scotland squad for the double-header against Albania and Israel.

The 21-year-old left-back has returned to the Parkhead club on medical advice with a reported leg injury and is the ninth withdrawal ahead of the Group C1 game in Shkoder on Saturday night.

Sheffield United’s John Fleck has been added to the squad for the game against Israel on Tuesday.

Two wins would book a place in the Euro 2020 qualification play-offs and before the news of Tierney’s call-off emerged, McLeish brushed aside controversy around the number of absentees to pay “utmost respect” to those who are available to him.

The former Scotland defender said: “We kind of have the nucleus here and that is important.

“We are going to concentrate on the guys who are in the squad and pay them our utmost respect. I really trust them. We have two really big games ahead of us and we can do it.

“I know we can do it if we can play to our best performance level.”

McLeish did reveal that Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney, left out of the original squad, had declared himself short of fitness despite starting the last three games in all competitions for the London side.

He said: “I think it is important not to start conversations about players who are not in the squad.

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Scotland manager Alex McLeish did not want to talk about players who could not make the squad (Jane Barlow/PA)

“I did speak to Tom and he still doesn’t feel he is at his top fitness, to comment on him in isolation, then we pay the respect to the players we are actually going forward with.

“The players who are not here, are not in my control.

“What is in my control is these guys in the squad right now who I have the utmost confidence in and we want these boys going into these games believing that they can win and give us a foot into the Euros.

“I do really believe that we have the players at our disposal to cope. There is no doubt about it.

“We have a plan in place already and we are really confident. We have to be very positive about it.”

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Sheffield United’s John Fleck has been added to McLeish’s squad (Tim Goode/PA)

Scotland put in a solid performance in the 2-0 win over Albania in their first Group C1 fixture but McLeish is expecting a tougher test in Shkoder.

The former Rangers boss said: “I am sure they have prepared well. You know they beat Israel in their home patch and they qualified for the last Euros.

“So they are not mugs.

“Liverpool go to Red Star Belgrade last week after a 4-0 thrashing  of them a few weeks before that and found it a hard game (they lost 2-0).

“It is always going to be a hard game.”

Midfielder Fleck, 27, will link up with the squad upon their return from Albania.

“We’re pleased to bring John into the squad following John McGinn’s injury,” Scotland’s assistant coach James McFadden told the SFA’s official website.

“He has been in fine form for a successful Sheffield United side this season, and his inclusion in the squad will offer us a fresh option against Israel.

“Rather than have John travel from Sheffield to Edinburgh, on to Albania and back to Glasgow in the space of 48 hours, without him having the opportunity to train with the team, it is better for him to join up with us on Sunday and be physically and mentally prepared to focus on our match against Israel on Tuesday.”

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