IF Alex McLeish is going to go down as Scotland manager, then he is going to do it his own way.

The national team head coach has listened to pundits, critics and even his captain to a certain degree expressing doubts over the way he is setting his team up after the defeat to Israel, but he insists he will persevere with a back three designed to accommodate both Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney into the side.

When he can, that is. With Tierney missing, the personnel available to him for this evening’s match against Portugal may dictate that he alters his preferred system, but in the long run, he believes that he is on the right track to getting the best out of this group of Scottish players.

And he doesn’t think that the errors which led to Israel’s goals on Thursday night and John Souttar’s dismissal were down to his men not being comfortable with how they are being asked to play.

“They might have made those mistakes in a back four too,” said McLeish. “Where is the evidence to say they wouldn’t?

“They are playing in comfortable positions. It’s central defence and they are comfortable.

“John Souttar cruised it against Albania. Nobody said that night, ‘He is out of position’. He’s played in back threes with Hearts too. There is a lot of versatility.

“It’s not a new system. It’s been around for donkeys and I played it with Motherwell and Hibs to great success.

“It came back in fashion after (Antonio) Conte did it with Chelsea and won the league. A lot of teams copied it.

“Look at the Russian coach. He suffered before the World Cup and then changed to a back three for the Spain game. Players are adaptable.

“I have tried, and will continue to, maximise the best positions for the players. Andy, to all intents and purposes, is in a role that he performs for Liverpool.

“He has big Virgil behind him and knows he can go up and down that line pressing people.

“But I get it. Finding the perfect niche in this set-up and playing with new players, is not easy to do overnight. However, we do need our best players in the team.

“And I’m not playing them hopelessly out of position. It’s not as if they are on the right wing or at centre-forward.

“I believe that it will work for us.”

While the general identity of McLeish’s Scotland team this time around will be 3-5-2 then, he is keen to stress that the shape will be malleable to meet the different challenges that they may face.

“We have changed to a four during games already and we are adaptable,” he said.

“I tried to be attack minded in Israel with a 3-4-3, with Callum (McGregor) playing further forward. We just didn’t make it potent enough.

“I watched the game again and we started slowly. We got caught in possession a couple of times and then came into a good spell.

“There was some good stuff without being a massive threat. In fact, we were probably a bigger threat when we went to ten men.”

The cynical among the Tartan Army may point out that was when McLeish changed to a 4-4-1.

Meanwhile, McLeish is keen to protect one of the jewels in his crown, Celtic full-back Tierney, from the dangers of having too much game-time, too young.

The 21-year-old has played 82 games since last summer in all competitions, so McLeish was happy to let him sit this evening’s match out to help him avoid burnout.

“We do have players who played a lot of games already this season,” he said.

“We were prepared to make a concession to Celtic in the summer over Kieran. He is a young guy growing up and has played an enormous amount of games.

“I remember back to my Aberdeen days with boys like Neil Cooper and Neil Simpson. They played a lot of games at an extremely young age, and they finished their careers relatively early.

“We don’t want that to happen to the current crop of players. That’s why Tierney is away back again.”

McLeish is all too aware that the barrage of criticism he has received since the defeat in Israel will intensify further should his side suffer another damaging defeat to the Portuguese tonight, as will the scrutiny around the safety of his job.

But he is adamant that in the long run, he can prove his doubters wrong by leading Scotland to qualification from the UEFA Nations League group, even if his team do fall to defeat at Hampden.

“I’d prefer to say it would be great to get a great result and what that would do for everyone,” he said.

“That would do a lot for confidence. Football can change but we know we have work to do.

“We took on a lot of big games and big names. There was a lot of experimentation there.

“I know my position will be speculated on and be mooted in the papers, or by fans and on social media.

“But I’m pretty headstrong and determined to prove that I can always bounce back.”

Craig Gordon will start for Scotland tonight as Allan McGregor takes a break after his heroics in Israel, the one bright performance on a dark night for the Scots.

“They are two great talents,” said McLeish. “Allan got the nod for the qualifiers and his form is great. We expect Craig’s form to be the same.

“Israel had a few digs from outside the box and Allan is so experienced that he makes it look easy.

“He’s been playing at that level for Rangers and that’s why we chose him for that particular game.

“We won’t make wholesale changes for the game but we already know who we are without.

“There will need to be some changes but we will apply common sense to the situation.

“We will field a team we feel can upset Portugal and not allow them to play like they want.”