SELECTING a player who had, little over a week earlier, not even been part of your squad to start ahead of an individual who is a darling of your side’s supporters would, for any international manager in any situation, be a massive gamble.

Doing so after a run of disappointing run of results – just one win in your opening five games in charge – had led to questions being asked of your ability to do your job was risky in the extreme.

But Alex McLeish’s bold and surprising decision to go with Steven Naismith up front instead of Leigh Griffiths for Scotland’s opening Nations League game against Albania last night paid off spectacularly. In fact, it turned out to be a masterstroke.

Naismith, the Norwich City man who is once again on loan at Hearts this season, was only called up by his country seven days earlier after Oli McBurnie of Swansea City withdrew injured.

But he justified his selection and then some. The 31-year-old helped his side to score two goals in the second-half – the first strike was, somewhat harshly, given as a Berat Xhimshiti own goal as the Albania man was the last to touch it - to secure a comfortable and richly-deserved 2-0 victory.

The result left a Scotland team which had slumped to their heaviest home defeat in 45 years against World Cup semi-finalists Belgium on Friday night on top of their section. There are still another three games to be played and a long way to go before a Euro 2020 play-off spot can be secured. But it was certainly a hugely positive 90 minutes a a giant stride in the right direction.

Hampden was, once again, less than half-full for this outing. Just 17,455 spectators filed through the turnstiles. But those who did brave the elements were treated to a vastly-improved showing, albeit against limited opposition, that gives great hope for the future.

Nobody going to the game or watching at home on television could have accurately predicted McLeish’s starting line-up. Craig Gordon, Ryan Fraser, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths all dropped out and Allan McGregor, Stephen O’Donnell, Johnny Russell and Naismith came in.

Allan McGregor's presence was expected. But the other changes were not. Not least that of O’Donnell. But the Kilmarnock right back was given the nod when Fraser was ruled out through injury.

He, too, proved his worth - as did Hearts centre half John Souttar, who was winning only his second cap, inside him - by helping Scotland keep a clean sheet with an assured individual display.

But few, if any, members of the Tartan Army could have seen the omission of Armstrong and Griffiths coming. Both men were instrumental to the late rally the country enjoyed in their ultimately ill-fated Russia 2018 qualifying campaign. Nevertheless, Russell and Naismith were preferred in attack.

The new front line certainly had their work cut out netting against the Albania rearguard. Goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha and defenders Elseid Hysaj, Frederic Veseli, Berat Xhimshiti, and Egzon Binaku all ply their trade for Serie A clubs in Italy.

John McGinn, at fault for the opening goal three days earlier, set about atoning for his error. He used his physicality to win the ball in the middle of the park on more than one occasion and his side were soon dominating possession and controlling proceedings. His team mates, though, were unable to capitalise.

Naismith should really have netted after Charlie Mulgrew nodded a McGinn free-kick down to him just a few yards out after 24 minutes. The striker just had to get his header on target to put his side in front. He somehow managed to hit the left post.

McLeish’s men got the ball into the net four minutes before half-time following one of the best attacking moves. Kevin McDonald, Robertson and Callum McGregor linked well and Naismith turned the ball over the line from close range. But assistant referee Roberto Ponis correctly ruled he had been just offside and the score remained level.

Naismith, however, made amends little over a minute after the start of the second-half. Armstrong, who had come on for McDonald, laid the ball back for Robertson far out on the left flank and he shelled a high ball to the far post. The centre forward headed in off Xhimshiti.

He added a second at a McGinn corner in the 68th minute. Frederick Veseli failed to clear it properly and the ball spun to the former Kilmarnock, Rangers and Everton player. He was perfectly positioned to nod into an empty net.