AN OVERJOYED Alex McLeish paid tribute to James Forrest’s hat trick heroics as Scotland overcame Israel 3-2 to book a Euro 2020 play-off spot.
The Celtic winger was rampant as he fired in three excellent efforts to take his tally to five in two games after his double against Albania at the weekend.
Ex-Hoops midfielder Beram Kayal had given the visitors a shock lead in the ninth minute before his old team-mate stepped up a gear to sizzle in two goals before the interval and then complete his treble to make it 3-1.
The Israelis made Scotland sweat when they pulled one back through Zahavi and keeper Allan McGregor was forced into an acrobatic save in the fading moments. Thankfully, Forest and Co held out until the final whistle blew following four minutes of nervy stoppage time.
International gaffer McLeish said: “I have to be proud of the guys, the way they played and the way they performed in Albania to set this game up.
“It gave them an injection of confidence and there was a lot of great play out there. You see the experience of Steven Fletcher and what he brings to the team.
“And, of course, special mention to James Forrest for his three goals. Unerring finishes.
“Five goals! It’s quite an incredible return for what we would say is a winger.
“We spoke to James in the Portugal game to get inside and get himself in those areas where he did damage against St Johnstone.
“He took the mantle, got in there on Saturday and then coming into the box as he did on this occasion was amazing. Just amazing football.
“There was a lot of good build-up play from the team, as well.”
BY THE RIGHT…James Forrest slots in his hat-trick goal. Pic: Geo.
Forrest took centre stage at the national stadium, but he was ably backed up by his Hoops colleagues Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor while their former colleague Stuart Armstrong put in a punishing shift as he continually drove at the Israeli defence.
The past two results give the Scots some much-needed breathing space and under-pressure McLeish was forced to ride out the storm after last month’s defeat in Israel eft the country’s UEFA Nations League hopes in the balance.
The international chief won promotion while manager of Hibs and Birmingham and he added: “This is up there with them. I’m proud of that.
“We are in an era where the national team has struggled a wee bit and not qualified for a major tournament in a big while.
“We are really proud of the guys in that respect. My backroom staff have worked tirelessly and taken a few hits. We knew we would with some of the teams we have played.
“But you have to put a perspective on it – I have only played four competitive games. Three we have won. One I have lost.
“There was a wee bit of a frenzy built up after the friendly games. I took a hit after the Israel game. It didn’t feel great for 24 hours, but then I was back working again to try and put it right.
“Great credit to everyone in that dressing room. Everyone to a man including the substitutes played their part.”