Scotland boss Alex McLeish insists he does not feel let down by Leigh Griffiths’ decision to pull out of the squad set to face Israel in Thursday’s crucial Nations League clash.
Victory in Haifa will put the Scots within touching distance of the play-offs and a potential wild card shot at Euro 2020.
But they will have to do it without Griffiths, who has withdrawn from McLeish’s squad after claiming he needs to work on his fitness levels.
The Celtic hitman’s decision to snub international duty while having no specific injury that would rule out his involvement is in contrast to the situation with Ryan Fraser.
The Bournemouth winger limped off injured during his side’s win against Watford at the weekend but was still so desperate to play his part for his country that he flew north anyway in the hope of persuading the Scotland medics to let him travel to Israel. Those hopes were dashed as he was told to return to Eddie Howe’s Premier League outfit.
But McLeish insists Fraser’s conduct does not paint Griffiths in an even worse light.
Asked if he felt let down by the Parkhead striker, the Scotland manager said: “No, no I don’t. Leigh doesn’t feel he is fit enough and wants to concentrate on his fitness – and you have to respect Leigh’s decision.
“I had a good chat with him on Saturday and I think he has cleared that up with his statement.
“I’m not going to throw him under a bus as such. He came to the games last time round and there was no animosity whatsoever.
“Yeah I can see in a player’s body language when they don’t like not playing. I could see that not only with Leigh Griffiths (against Albania last month), I could see it with a number of players. It’s natural.
“I think it’s big of him to say that he needs to get fitter to play at these levels.”
Griffiths previously admitted McLeish’s claim that Steven Naismith was now his first-choice striker felt like a ‘kick in the teeth’.
The manager has now warned the striker that there is no guarantee that he will win his place back in future – but also stressed that goes for his entire squad.
He said: “You can’t guarantee anybody will be picked. People chastise me for saying I can’t guarantee Leigh won’t play but I can’t guarantee anybody a game unless they are playing to a level that we want to be at.”
Fraser’s call-off is another blow for McLeish given the sparkling form he has been in playing wide on the left for the Cherries.
Scotland squad update:— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) October 9, 2018
OUT: Ryan Fraser (Injury) pic.twitter.com/qeJo0XkZI3
McLeish tried him out in a right wing-back role against Belgium last month without much success but admitted he had been preparing to reshape his line-up to squeeze the former Aberdeen youngster in.
He said: “To see him unleashing his pace and power in a more forward position with Bournemouth since the start of the season has obviously opened my eyes up to playing him in a different position and maybe changing the system.
“He’s saved his electric performances for his club in recent weeks and we were very keen to get him involved with Scotland because the way he has been burning it up down there in England.
“However, he failed a medical with the Scotland doctors and physios and we had no choice but to send him back.
“He was very, very keen to come. He came up on the plane on Sunday night and absolutely determined to stay but we had to send him back for his own good.”