AS a great admirer of Alex McLeish both as a player and manager, I was chuffed for the big man when he finally notched a win in his second spell as manager of Scotland.

That it occurred against Albania in his first competitive match of this second managership means that, despite the humiliation against Belgium on Friday night, big Eck is off to a good start.

I was very struck by something he said after the Albania match: “Rome was not built in a day. People talk about my win ratio and being under pressure. I know the way football works.

“I am building a wall here. ?I am not papering over cracks. I want to build something with these players.”

For all sorts of reasons the “building a wall” metaphor is very apt. The arguments about whether Leigh Griffiths of Steven Naismith should start up front, or who exactly should fill the various roles in midfield, are all academic if we do not have a decent defence that concedes very few goals. But even Albania had a couple of decent chances on Monday night, so I am not ready yet to join the chorus of approval for our defenders, even if they certainly made many fewer errors than they did against Belgium.

All the best Scotland teams have been based on a solid defence, and I am able to go back to the 1970s when I first attended a Scotland match to reel off the names of those defenders. Players that made this country a genuine footballing power that qualified for six World Cup finals in 24 years – a terrific record for a nation with such a small population.

The likes of Danny McGrain, Gordon McQueen, Alex McLeish himself, Willie Miller, Richard Gough, Roy Aitken, and Maurice Malpas would have graced any team, and are rightly among the list of most capped players. Consider too, that Billy McNeill, Sandy Jardine, and Alan Hansen were by no means automatic picks in eras when Scotland had a plethora of great defenders and you see that a Scottish dark blue wall was the basis of the success we enjoyed from the 70s to the 90s.

That we had magnificent midfielders who would run and chase all day made the Scotland manager’s job difficult in just one sense – who would he have to leave out?

Sadly, Eck doesn’t have anything like the roster of talent that we had back then, and it’s very unfortunate that two of the best players in the current squad are both left wing-backs – both of them must play and personally I would like to see Tierney on the left side of midfield, but that is probably the only conundrum that McLeish must solve now that has found a proper right back in Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell.

I sense that McLeish knows his best defence and will build on it to fashion a team that defends from the front, plays safe at the back, creates in midfield and attacks at speed with every player prepared to have a go at goal.

Big Eck also realises that the national side has a problem when just shy of 38,000 people turn up at Hampden to watch a friendly against the third best side in the world and a very important competitive match against a former minnow-classed team. The Tartan Army, it seems, is being a bit fickle at the moment and choosing its games carefully – and which genius in the footballing authorities thought a Monday night game would bring out the fans?

McLeish said: “The way we’ll get the Scottish fans back is by winning. I want the fans to come to watch us, not Belgium or Portugal. I know there’s a bit of apathy and we’re the only guys who can change that.”

If he was being even more honest, McLeish would also admit that he personally must do more to rebuild his links with the fans which were broken with his shock resignation in 2007 after he so nearly got us to the 2008 European Championships. I am not alone in thinking that had McLeish stayed and worked with the squad he was building, we could well have qualified for the 2010 World Cup – and don’t forget, he was on a contract to do so and had been offered an additional two years with Scotland before he resigned to become the manager of Birmingham City.

That move to England was perhaps the right thing for McLeish at the time, but the then SFA chief executive Gordon Smith knew it was bad for Scotland and said so, and that proved to be the case.

Yet the Tartan Army will forgive and forget everything if McLeish can deliver a team that keeps on winning and gets us to Euro 2020, with the possibility of Scotland playing at home in that tournament.

Alex McLeish was a winner as a Scotland player. I believe he can be so as a Scotland manager, second time around.