Alex McLeish: Scotland boss says nine player withdrawals 'nothing sinister'

Scotland defender Kieran Tierney during training this week
Kieran Tierney had been training with the squad for the trip to Albania
Nations League League C, Group 1: Albania v Scotland
Venue: Loro Borici Stadium, Shkoder Date: Saturday, 17 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Alex McLeish insists there is "nothing sinister" about the "extraordinary" amount of players who have had to drop out of his Scotland squad.

Celtic's Kieran Tierney, who has a hamstring injury, became the ninth player to withdraw before Saturday's Nations League game in Albania.

"The boys have played to very high levels," the head coach said. "They get pushed to the boundaries in training.

"It is just something not in our control. It is a bit of a freak."

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Scotland call-offs 'nothing sinister' - Alex McLeish

Scotland and Albania go into the game in Shkoder three points behind League C Group 1 leaders Israel and could still win the section - or be relegated after their final two games.

But McLeish will be without seven of the players who started their last group game - a 2-1 defeat by Israel - having already been denied the services of Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths and Fulham midfielder Tom Cairney because of fitness issues, Matt Ritchie after the Newcastle United winger asked not to be considered, while Crystal Palace's James McArthur announced his retirement from international football.

"It is just bad luck," he said at the Scotland team hotel in Tirana soon after arriving in Albania. "It is all genuine injuries.

"So it is not something sinister, if you are trying to find a story out of this there is nothing there.

"They go to the red zone in training in certain moments and some of them pick up knocks and injuries and, unfortunately for us, we have had a lot of call-offs at the same time, which is maybe extraordinary."

Left-back Tierney returned to Celtic on medical advice with hamstring tightness on Friday, with no replacement called up for the 21-year-old.

"Kieran Tierney was desperate to play for us and his attitude was fantastic, but the medical from the doctor and physios decreed that he had to pull out," McLeish said.

Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck had earlier been added to the squad for Tuesday's Nations League match with Israel at Hampden.

He will join up with McLeish's pool of players after they return from Albania.

The 27-year-old was capped at under-21 level but has never been involved with the senior set-up.

The loss of Tierney reduces McLeish's options in defence while at the same time resolving the conundrum of finding a place for two top-quality left-backs.

Tierney has been used on the left of a three-man central defence, with Liverpool's Andrew Robertson pushed into a wing-back role on the left.

With Kilmarnock's Stephen O'Donnell having withdrawn from the squad, leaving McLeish without a natural right-back, using Tierney on the other flank and reverting to a back four had been an option.

McLeish had said he had noted Callum Paterson's form in a forward role for Cardiff City, but the 24-year-old is an option at right-back, having played there previously for his country and Hearts.

Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck
Fleck has scored once in 16 Championship games this season

Fleck's call-up had come after Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn became the eighth player to drop out of the original squad for the double header.

"We did discuss bringing him in, but we felt that travelling to Edinburgh then Glasgow and then to Albania all within 48 hours just didn't make sense, especially when we were totally prepared for the game in hand," McLeish added.

"We will bring him in on Sunday and he can integrate with the squad then."

Fleck, previously with Rangers and Coventry City, has made 17 appearances for his club this season, with the Blades sitting fourth in England's Championship.

'So depleted defensively it's incredible' - analysis

Former Scotland striker Steven Thompson

Kieran Tierney is one of our best players, if not our best player, so to have him pull out is an extraordinary blow.

I thought he would have played right-back in a back four against Albania. It makes a massive problem for Alex McLeish. Who will play right-back?

Callum Paterson has played there, but not for a long time, or will he revert to a back three and have James Forrest play right wing-back? That's what I'm thinking now.

Should he have called up another right-back? I think he should have. We are now left with a void in that area. We are so depleted defensively it's incredible.

Alex McLeish won't use the call-offs as an excuse, though, and I think, regardless of who plays on the right-hand side of the defence on Saturday, the squad has enough quality to win the game.

Scotland squad

Scotland group
Scotland could still finish first, second or third in the section

Goalkeepers: Scott Bain (Celtic), Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock), Allan McGregor (Rangers).

Defenders: Scott McKenna (Aberdeen), Andy Robertson (Liverpool), Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen), David Bates (Hamburg), Jack Hendry (Celtic).

Midfielders: Stuart Armstrong (Southampton), Ryan Christie (Celtic), John Fleck (Sheffield United)*, James Forrest (Celtic), Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth), Gary Mackay-Steven (Aberdeen), Callum McGregor (Celtic), Callum Paterson (Cardiff City), Scott McTominay (Manchester United).

Forwards: Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday), Oliver McBurnie (Swansea City), Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion), Johnny Russell (Sporting Kansas City).

*Will join squad for Tuesday's match against Israel.

My Scotland team to face Albania

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