Evening Express

Russell’s American move justified by Scotland recall for UEFA Nations League opener

Scotland's Jonny Russell and Albania's Sabien Lilaj battle for the ball during the UEFA Nations League match at Hampden Park.

Scotland’s UEFA Nations League opener with Albania was a dream come true for Johnny Russell as he won the start he craved.

And now the attacker is desperate to establish himself as a regular in the Dark Blue jersey after impressing on Monday night.

Russell played up front alongside Steven Naismith as Alex McLeish’s men started the Nations League campaign with a convincing 2-0 win.

The Sporting Kansas City player has had a stop-start international career.

After making his debut against England in November 2014 Russell won caps against Qatar and Gibraltar the following year.

However, the former Dundee United man did not play for the national team again until June of this year against Mexico.

After keeping his place in the Scotland squad for the friendly against Belgium and this clash with Albania, Russell was dreaming of a start and was delighted, after being used as a sub against the Belgians.

The 28-year-old also thinks returning to the national team’s starting line-up vindicated his decision to leave Derby County for Kansas City in the MLS in January.

Russell said: “Of course I want to keep my place. I wanted to get back in the squad and keep my place in the squad.

“I dreamed about getting a start and I did, so the next challenge for me is to try to keep it and I’ll do everything I can to do that.

“I do feel it vindicates my decision of going to America.

“I felt that I needed something new because my game was suffering and I was suffering as well.

“I felt that I had to make a change – it was a pretty big change – but it has worked out well so far. I’m enjoying myself over there and I’ve got myself back in the squad as well, so all in all it has worked out well for me.”

Russell’s selection in attack alongside Steven Naismith raised some eyebrows ahead of facing Albania.

However, the pair worked well together, with Naismith netting the second goal and seeing his header deflected in off Berat Djimsiti for the first. Russell enjoyed playing alongside the Hearts man and believes Naismith showed his class against the Balkan side.

He added: “I loved playing up front with Steven.

“I started my career through the middle and I played there until I went down to England.

“I had to change my game and play in a different way. It was a bit of a surprise to get the shout to play against Albania. But I’m delighted to get myself back up there and I feel my game works better in a two and Naisy is always going to help that.

“He showed his class with the two goals, even though he only got one.

“He has got that experience having been there and done it at international level and he’s continuing to do it.

“I’m delighted he was able to get a goal and pleased we got the win.”

Russell was pleased with Monday’s win and says it was important to start the Nations League group with Albania and Israel with a victory as they look to win the section and secure a play-off place.

He said: “I’m happy with the win. We had a few chances in the first half that we feel we should have scored with.

“The message at half-time was be patient and we would get our goal – and we didn’t have to wait long in the second half.

“It was a great ball to the back post and a good finish by Naisy.

“You have to believe you can win the group.

“You can’t think this Nations League has nothing to play for – we feel we’ve got the squad that can go on and win the league we are in.

“It was important to start with a win.

“We know we need to win our home games and the Albania game was a must-win really and we knew that coming into the game.

“So we’re delighted to get the three points and make a good start to the campaign.”