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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep, 8, 2007

McLeish hails fringe stars after tough test

Scotland manager Alex McLeish hailed his fringe players after James McFadden and Shaun Maloney came off the bench to give the lift the hosts needed in their 3-1 win over Lithuania.

Maloney set up Scotland's second goal for Stephen McManus, and McFadden drilled home a superb third strike to make sure of all three points in the Euro 2008 qualifier at Hampden.

Scotland were rocking at 1-1, after Kris Boyd's header was cancelled out, but McLeish's substitutions came off.

He said: 'We needed inspiration, we needed a change, and I'm glad to say we've got great options on the bench to give us that and it happened.'

McFadden's strike will not guarantee the left-footed Everton forward, who took up a right-sided role after his introduction today, a place in the side to face France in midweek.

McLeish said: 'I've got to think about James, but I spoke to James today before the game very briefly and said that things can change `like that' - I clicked my fingers - and those were prophetic words.

'He came on and he's not particularly happy out wide, but we felt that it's amazing the amount of times wide players on their opposite side can produce something.

'I told him to come in and link up with the strikers and he did it beautifully.

'It took us five or six minutes to get him on the ball and he produced a little bit of magic right away.

'But he's only played 114 minutes (for Everton) over a three-month period.

'Should he have started today? I seriously doubt that. I don't know if we'd have got that inspiration there.'

McLeish also criticised Lithuania's Hearts winger Saulius Mikoliunas for diving to win the penalty from which the visitors equalised - and urged the Lithuanian FA chief to condemn the player.

McLeish told BBC Radio Scotland: 'It's disappointing but it happens more outside of Scotland than it does in this country.

'We'd like to think the Lithuanian Gordon Smith would have a look at that.'

The result keeps Scotland in with a chance of qualifying for next year's finals in Austria and Switzerland.

McLeish also acknowledged the 3-1 win as a result which will raise expectations.

He added: 'It is, and that's the challenge that faces us. With the more points we put on the board other teams start looking over their shoulder.'

McLeish is likely to name a 4-5-1 line-up for the France game, sacrificing a striker as captain Barry Ferguson returns from suspension.

'It will certainly be a different way we play and a different formation,' said McLeish.

'I would think it would be absolutely crazy to go 4-4-2 in France. I don't think anybody in their right mind would, so we will be looking closely at the personnel and Ferguson of course comes into our thoughts.'

In Ferguson's absence, stand-in captain Darren Fletcher led the Scotland side well and was unfortunate to be the one penalised for the penalty just after the hour mark.

Substitute Mikoliunas dived through his challenge, and Fletcher said: 'It would have been sickening to drop points because of that.

'It really does hurt you inside when players try to gain advantages like that. It wasn't even the penalty, it was every time he got it he seemed to be going down easily, and it's a bit embarrassing really.

'We've got to be bigger than that and show character and come back from it.'

Fletcher was quick to insist it will still take a massive effort for Scotland to qualify for the finals.

The result took Scotland briefly to the top of Group B, ahead of the Italy v France clash later in the evening, but Fletcher said: 'It's still going to take a lot for us to be there.

'We want to be there and we're going to give it our best shot. We're up against two of the best teams in the world and the Ukraine, one of the top eight teams at the World Cup.'

He said: 'We've still got to keep our feet on the ground because we've not achieved anything yet. If we do get there, fantastic, if not we've made great strides.' The Manchester United midfielder, 23, is one of the players who seems certain to face the French.

A repeat of last October's 1-0 victory against France at Hampden would give Scotland a great chance of qualifying.

Fletcher added: 'We have to just keep winning and anything bar a win today would have made it hard to go to France with spirits up.

'But we managed to win the game and deservedly so, and we'll go to France with confidence.

'We know we're going to be pegged back, we're not saying we're going to go and win in France, not by a long stretch of the imagination.

'But we've got a great team spirit here and a lot of character and we'll make it very difficult for them.'

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