THE rain was lashing down last night, just as it was that fateful Saturday evening in November 2007 when Cristian Panucci benefited from a dodgy free-kick to extinguish Alex McLeish’s hopes of guiding Scotland to the European Championships. Sporting a goatee beard, and perhaps a few more grey hairs, the illustrious former full back took his place in the dug-out this time to see if his Albania side - clad in the same white jerseys Italy wore – could inflict further misery upon the Scotland manager. This one isn’t done yet - there will be another helping of this Nations League match-up in Shkoder in November. But this was the night when big Eck started to wreaked at least a little bit of revenge.

The weather might have been the same as 2007 but the vibe around Scotland right now was markedly different as Scotland prepared to make their Uefa Nations League debut. Everything seemed possible back then, a heady mix of optimism and alcohol making Glasgow a febrile place as James McFadden and Barry Ferguson attempted to fire us back to a major finals. While the intervening decade – none of which McLeish can be blamed for - has dampened the spirits of the Tartan Army, the early stages of the manager’s second coming hadn’t exactly set the heather alight either. One win in five matches, with one goal scored, had set tongues wagging and McLeish duly got the victory in his first truly competitive game in order to nip this mood of despondency before it went any further. At one point in the second half, the Tartan Army appeared to be clearing their throats.

Having taken the brunt of the criticism after the 4-0 defeat to an admittedly world class Belgium side on Friday night, McLeish decided it would be his way or the high way. Keeping Leigh Griffiths, Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest on his bench – there was no sign of Ryan Fraser on the bench either, presumably indicating an injury – this was a brave team selection, as he handed Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell a competitive debut at right wing back and went with Steven Naismith and Johnny Russell up front in the kind of 3-4-1-2 shape which never did Craig Brown any harm. The Kilmarnock wing back at one point had his shorts pulled down, but he wasn’t embarrassed here.

While the home fans doubted, it was a lively wee bunch of supporters who journeyed from Albania, buoyed by a 1-0 win against Israel in the opening match day. It takes a Masters degree to unravel the permuations of the Uefa Nations League but all that mattered was the fact that avoiding defeat here would have left Scotland needing snookers in a three-team group which is done by November.

While the Albanians spent much of last night chasing shadows, they were a group with some sneaky quality. If Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson were still less than the sum of their parts down the left, part of the reason for that was the presence of Alabania’s own skipper there, flinty Napoli right back Elseid Hysaj. Others were liberally sprinkled across the top divisions in Italy and Greece.

Scotland aren’t overly blessed with strikers right now but it wasn’t hard to make the case for Naismith. The scorer of seven goals for a league-leading Hearts side, he always provides graft for the cause and the street smarts which can be so valuable in football. And he knows where the goal is, even if at one stage last night some would have questioned that. Somehow he only succeeded in heading the ball off the post, as well as careering into it, after Mulgrew had touched on a first half corner, before he wandered just past the offside line from McGregor’s pass. Even Scotland’s opener when it arrived still wasn’t quite his goal – his header was going back across goal before it deflected off Berat Xhimshiti’s napper.

Scotland breathed a sigh of relief, even if it was almost to their cost. Some new-found attacking ambition from the Albanians saw Bekim Balaj threaten McGregor’s goal on three occasions. A better side, say Belgium, would have made Scotland pay last night.

But we were all spared the fraught final stages of this one – Panucci-time, you might call it – because Naismith popped up with another piece of quick-thinking for a goal which definitely was his. John McGinn – impressive save for only a couple of lapses in possession – speared over a corner which flicked off an Albanian head and Naismith’s striker’s instinct did the rest.This was a start for McLeish, nothing more. But at least he was able to show Mr Panucci off the premises with his world still intact.