Scotland v Lithuania: McLeish buoyed by form of Boyd

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The Independent Football

Exactly a year ago, Kris Boyd thought he had secured his status as Scotland's first-choice striker. He had just scored twice in the 6-0 rout of the Faroe Islands at Celtic Park to launch the hectic Euro 2008 Group B qualifying schedule, yet four days later Boyd was back on the bench in Lithuania.

That decision was Walter Smith's, but the former national manager was vindicated by the fact that the Scots went to Kaunas and won 2-1. Smith's preference for a more mobile forward in the lone front role in a 4-5-1 set-up paid off as Kenny Miller provided the winner. History has been repeating itself over the last few weeks, as Boyd suddenly found himself dropped again by Smith, this time from the Rangers side.

No one is a bigger fan of Boyd than Smith, who gave the24-year-old his first cap in 2006 and was rewarded with two goals in a 5-1 win over Bulgaria. Except, perhaps, Alex McLeish.If the Rangers manager is prepared to sacrifice the prolific striker for team shape, the man who followed him into the Scotland job is unlikely to take such a gamble on Saturday when Lithuania go to Hampden Park.

A sellout 52,000 crowd will be urging Scotland to secure three valuable points in the first part of a double-header before facing up to France in Paris four days later. Boyd cast aside his Ibrox frustrations 10 days ago to come off the bench and score Scotland's winner in the friendly win over South Africa at Pittodrie. It was his sixth goal in 10 games for his country.

"People are always looking for something more from Kris," said McLeish when considering Boyd's critics. "He is like Ally McCoist. He always put the ball in the back of the net, and players like that are few and far between." When McLeish paid £400,000 to steal Boyd from Kilmarnock in January 2006, the player went on to become the top marksman in the Scottish Premier League with 37 goals. Last season, he embraced a century of SPL goals.

The absence of Miller (who moved on Friday from Celtic to Derby County for £3 million) because of a hamstring strain heightens the need for McLeish to use Boyd alongside the power of Garry O'Connor, for whom Birmingham City recently paid Lokomotiv Moscow £2.7m.

"I've got more options than other Scotland managers in recent times," said McLeish. "We have a lot more players in the Premiership. It is fantastic for the guys to have that challenge in England. We also have more guys in the Champions' League, with Celtic, Rangers and Darren Fletcher at Manchester United." Fletcher, the United midfielder, could be Scotland's captain at Hampden in the absence of the suspended Barry Ferguson.