Scotland: Snodgrass & Naismith in, but no Griffiths for Russia & Belgium

Steven Naismith and Robert Snodgrass

Steven Naismith and Robert Snodgrass bring experience to the Scotland squad

Robert Snodgrass and Steven Naismith return to the Scotland squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers with Russia and Belgium – but there is no place for Leigh Griffiths.

The Celtic striker has scored three goals in eight games after spending six months dealing with personal issues.

“We should just give him a little more time,” said manager Steve Clarke.

Grant Hanley and Liam Cooper are also recalled, with Portsmouth keeper Craig MacGillivray given a first call-up.

Norwich City captain Hanley – whose last appearance was in a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in March 2018 – and uncapped Leeds United captain Cooper are chosen in the absence of injured centre-backs Scott McKenna, Stuart Findlay, Michael Devlin and John Souttar.

Perth-born MacGillivray is preferred to Craig Gordon and Liam Kelly after Celtic goalkeeper Scott Bain was ruled out.

‘A sharp Griffiths will always be good’

Griffiths, who won his last cap against Albania almost a year ago, has scored four goals in his past seven internationals but he was playing in a Reserve Cup match on Monday as he builds up fitness.

“He’s come a long way in a short space of time after a very difficult spell in his life,” said Clarke. “A fully fit and firing, sharp Leigh Griffiths will always be good for us.”

But while the Celtic striker has been omitted, there are recalls for Snodgrass and Naismith.

Snodgrass, who has started once for West Ham this season, has not featured since a friendly loss to Belgium last September but Clarke said the 31-year-old was “very keen” to resume playing after his hiatus.

Naismith, who has 49 caps, scored twice in four games when returning to the fold in late 2018 after 18 months out. However, he has yet to play more than 45 minutes in two outings for Hearts this season and has missed the last two games.

The experienced Steven Fletcher is an absentee despite being a regular starter for Sheffield Wednesday this term, while Fulham’s Tom Cairney and Graeme Shinnie of Derby County drop out.

Kelly, Oliver Burke, Marc McNulty, Eamonn Brophy and Lewis Morgan are also missing from the first squad Clarke named when he succeeded Alex McLeish two games into a faltering campaign.

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‘It’s a little too early to push Griffiths’

‘Tough decisions’ in midfield

“We are good in midfield, lots of options,” said Clarke, who has called up Rangers’ Ryan Jack and Ryan Christie of Celtic. “If I’ve got everyone there, I’ve got tough decisions to make but that’s better than making easy decisions.”

Scotland, fourth in qualifying Group I with six points from four games, host the Russians on 6 September, before welcoming the Belgians three days later.

“The next three games [a visit to Russia follows on 10 October] are going to be crucial,” said Clarke. “We’re going to be well prepared and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got to get the points we need to stay in contention for the final three games.”

Scotland last faced Russia in the successful qualification campaign for Euro 96, drawing home and away. Belgium, ranked the number one team in the world, beat Scotland 3-0 in Brussels in June and top the group with maximum points.

Scotland squad

Goalkeepers: Craig MacGillivray (Portsmouth), David Marshall (Wigan), Jon McLaughlin (Sunderland)

Defenders: Liam Cooper (Leeds United), Grant Hanley (Norwich), Charlie Mulgrew (Wigan), Stephen O’Donnell (Kilmarnock), Liam Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool), Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock)

Midfielders: Stuart Armstrong (Southampton), Ryan Christie (Celtic), Ryan Jack (Rangers), John McGinn (Aston Villa), Callum McGregor (Celtic), Kenny McLean (Norwich City), Robert Snodgrass (West Ham), Scott McTominay (Manchester United)

Forwards: James Forrest (Celtic), Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth), Oliver McBurnie (Sheffield United), Steven Naismith, Matt Phillips (West Brom) Johnny Russell (Sporting Kansas City)