Scotland: win over Hungary lifts spirits as Alex McLeish reshapes team

Scotland manager Alex McLeish
Scotland manager Alex McLeish will have been heartened by the result against Hungary as much as the performance

Amidst further experimentation, a missed penalty and a moment of decisive endeavour in attack, Scotland made an important step forward in Budapest.

It was just the second game of Alex McLeish's second spell in charge of the national team, but the 1-0 win over Hungary brought a sense of perspective.

A second defeat, following last week's 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, would have set a tone of dismay.

It could have turned into something more troubling for McLeish, given that the friendlies against Peru and Mexico at the end of the season are likely to feature weakened squads.

It is too early to judge how McLeish's reign will develop, but he will have understood that pressure can build swiftly.

McLeish wanted to utilise the opportunity the friendlies provide to bring new, younger players into the squad and test them at international level.

Even with that experimental nature of the games, the mood music would have been questionable if Scotland hadn't delivered a positive result in Budapest. A time-served manager, McLeish knows the need to build some positivity and momentum.

There were a number of plus points against Hungary. The goalscorer Matt Phillips did enough in his striker role to suggest that he can be an option in that position.

Aberdeen centre-back Scott McKenna has seamlessly strolled into international football, and in two appearances has shown enough to suggest that he can establish himself in the team as well as the squad.

Jack Hendry also made his case with a more than competent performance. The Celtic centre-back was composed, albeit he didn't face the kind of test a better side would have presented.

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Highlights: Hungary 0-1 Scotland

In goal, Hull City's Allan McGregor produced a number of important saves to ensure the win, reminding everyone that he can be first choice.

The tempo to Scotland's play was far superior than against Costa Rica. Confidence seemed to evolve throughout the game, particularly after Phillips' goal.

Hungary were limited opponents, though, a side lacking ability and confidence. What is encouraging for McLeish is that they are potential play-off opponents in the Uefa Nations League if Scotland top their group involving Albania and Israel.

On this evidence, that might be Scotland's best hope of reaching Euro 2020. Charlie Mulgrew, the captain against Hungary, almost undermined the win with a slack moment that should have produced an equaliser for the hosts.

There were a few occasions when deliveries into the Scotland penalty area weren't dealt with effectively, which might have proved costly against better opposition.

Scotland captain Charlie Mulgrew against Hungary
Scotland captain Charlie Mulgrew had moments to forget against Hungary, including his first-half penalty being saved

There are still questions for McLeish to mull over. What's the right shape, for example?

Three at the back looks reasonable, but will that work when Celtic defender Kieran Tierney returns and has to be accommodated with Liverpool's Andrew Robertson, two players that must surely start when available?

If McLeish plays a four-man defence, he potentially limits Tierney's impact tearing down the flank as a full-back, if Robertson lines up in front of him. And who would play at right back? There's no outstanding candidate yet; Callum Paterson is the most likely contender, but is better going forward than defending as a classic full-back.

McKenna and Hendry have delivered, but will McLeish revert to experience and bring back the likes of Hearts captain Christophe Berra?

There is a long way to go and conundrums to be resolved before Scotland can compete to reach Euro 2020.

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