LEIGH Griffiths was the toast of the nation a little over a year ago after his two stunning long-range free-kicks came so close to clinching a memorable victory over England in a Russia 2018 qualifier at Hampden.

On Monday night he had to sit disconsolately in the stands of a bitterly cold and half-empty stadium as the rain teemed down and watch a player who had only been called into the squad a week earlier lead the line for Scotland against Albania.

Alex McLeish, who made the audacious decision to play Steven Naismith, not Griffiths, in attack, fully expects the player to be aggrieved at being dropped for opening Nations League match.

But ensuring the mercurial and gifted forward - as well as other regular starters, including James Forrest, who weren’t involved - remains committed to his country’s cause is an important part of McLeish’s role.

To that end, the 59-year-old has made a point of reassuring Griffiths, and the others who didn’t take part in the 2-0 victory, that he remains a huge part of his plans going forward.

“Listen, I’ve had to make these calls before,” said McLeish. “Griff’s not playing as a starter for Celtic at the moment, only in some games. Naisy is there every single week for Hearts and I know what Griff can do.

“I think he was a little bit isolated in the Belgium game. Let’s face it, it was almost mission impossible for him the other night. But again, we know what he can do.

“He came on and had a free-kick in his favourite position and it’s always good if he can get a goal. He’s still very valuable to us.

“They will get annoyed. That’s just a fact of the game. They will be annoyed and some of them will be p****d off with me, but I hope that in 24 hours they calm down and they are willing to go again for us because they are so important to us as we build a new era.

“We are losing some senior players over the last year or so, last 18 months, and a lot of young guys have come into the team. They are opting in.”

“There are some guys in great form who never played and they must be gutted. I really feel for them.”

McLeish has stressed that Naismith, who had a hand in both of the second-half goals, will need to maintain his form with Hearts in the coming weeks to keep his place in the starting line-up for the next Group C1 match against Israel in Haifa next month.

“It will be hard to say that I’m not playing him now (against Israel),” he said. “The media will be the first to question me on that one. But it depends on form over the next few weeks.

“Naisy knows the standards he has to keep up, but he’s a player who’s been round the block. He’s got good tactical nous. He’s a team player and he knows the positions to go into when we don’t have the ball.

“He does his bit for the team and he’s good in the air. But Griff has a lot of these qualities as well and is a fantastic finisher. We’re going to need him.”

James Forrest, who was a huge favourite of McLeish’s predecessor Gordon Strachan, wasn’t involved in a single minute of either the 4-0 defeat to Belgium on Friday evening or the win over Albania.

Stephen O’Donnell, the Kilmarnock right back, was preferred to the 20-times capped Celtic winger at wing back when Ryan Fraser withdrew from the squad injured.

However, McLeish, who played with a 3-5-1-1 formation in both games, explained the 27-year-old, who has been in good form for his club side once again this term, was only omitted due to the system he opted for.

“It’s probably appropriate that I should speak to them after the game, especially if the players somehow feel they are not worthy if I’ve not included them or they’ve sat on the bench for two games,” he said.

“James was one of the few guys I got to speak to after the match. I told him we wouldn’t be playing 3-5-2 all the times and there will be times when we need him in the wide areas.”

Meanwhile, McLeish has urged Scotland midfielder John McGinn to follow his example and watch endless re-runs of his performances in an attempt to make himself a better player.

Aston Villa player McGinn acquitted himself well for long spells in the centre of the park in the 2-0 triumph over Albania at Hampden on Monday evening.

However, the former St Mirren and Hibernian man, who gifted Belgium their opening goal on Friday night when he switched off, was still guilty of two shocking errors that nearly cost his country dear.

McLeish has told the nine-times capped player to force himself to watch replays of both outings no matter how difficult it may be to view his mistakes.

“We’ve said to them: ‘Look back at the games’,” he said. “I used to tape Sportscene many years ago and have still got about 100 tapes with dust covering them now. I used to watch them and say: ‘I could have done that better’.

“I hope John’s the type of guy who will look back at his games and say at times: ‘I’ve got to do better there’. But there were a lot of really good things he did as well.”

Elsewhere, McLeish has revealed that he took Kevin McDonald off at half-time against Albania because he was concerned the Fulham man was going to get red carded.

McDonald had been booked for a rash challenge on the sodden Hampden turf in the first-half and his manager was unprepared to send him back out for the second-half.

“I pulled him in and told him I was taking him off,” he said. “It wasn’t a reflection on his play, but it was slippy that if slipped going into a tackle, I could see a second yellow card coming.

“The big yin wasn’t in agreement with it, but he accepted it like a good professional and we got (Stuart) Armstrong on, changed the system a wee bit and added a different dynamic.”

Scotland’s next game is a friendly against Portugal at Hampden next month and McLeish is hopeful his team will benefit from facing the Euro 2016 champions.

The former Motherwell, Hibernian and Rangers manager, who is in his second spell in charge of his country, believes his charges learned a lot from facing Russia 2018 finalists Belgium and will do so again against Portugal.

“It reminds me of our clubs playing Champions League teams,” he said. “That’s the kind of gulf, but I still think it’s great for my players to play against them and see if we can get closer in terms of results. Then we can see if we are improving.”