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Scotland's surplus can bring rich rewards

It may not be quite an embarrassment of riches just yet but Scotland's fortunes on the footballing front are certainly improving.

NAISMITH: the Everton attacker was promoting Scotland's player  of the year award. Picture: SNS
NAISMITH: the Everton attacker was promoting Scotland's player of the year award. Picture: SNS

During the nation's prolonged spell in the international wilderness, there have been times when the poverty of talent almost called for a benefit gig to raise awareness and aid the hand-to-mouth cause. Not any more it seems.

"Without doubt, this is the most competitive the squad has been," said Steven Naismith as he continued to water the green shoots of recovery with his upbeat outlook. "That was one thing Darren Fletcher said when he came back. He couldn't believe how competitive the squad now was."

With a renewed feel-good factor coursing through the national side, thanks to the galvanising effect of new manager Gordon Strachan, Naismith is enjoying being part of the resurgence.

Whether this sense of optimism is enough to convince international exile Kris Commons, who retired from the scene last year, to return to the fray remains to be seen but, as he mulled over potential candidates for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award, Naismith expressed an enthusiasm to see the Celtic player in the fold again.

His old strike partner Kris Boyd, back among the goals at Kilmarnock, is also providing plenty of encouraging signs and could bolster Strachan's growing attacking options as he builds for an assault on the European Championship qualifiers.

"I certainly think Kris [Commons] would be an asset," said Naismith. "He is somebody who would definitely bring something to the squad. If he is going to be an asset them I'm sure he will be welcome. We are all pushing for the same goals and if he can help, that would be great. It's a hard one though. The manager must want him and Kris must want to come back.

"Kris Boyd is in the frame too. Getting called up for the Norway trip shows that the manager fancies him. One thing I notice about him now is that he is so much more mature and his all round game has improved. That's working in his favour. You have Ross McCormack, Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher, Leigh Griffiths, myself. We're all competing for, essentially, that one spot."

Naismith's new-found confidence, both for club and country, has been very much Strachan's gain and the 27-year-old's significant input to victories over Macedonia and Croatia at the tail end of an ultimately doomed World Cup qualifying campaign provided plenty of food for thought.

"I knew when I moved to Everton that the task of getting into the team and staying in the team would be tough," said the former Kilmarnock and Rangers player.

"Last year I was a wee bit disappointed with my overall review of the season but this season I've had more of an impact in terms of goals in big games or in big moments of games.

"All those things add up and bring more confidence. For me, all around, there's more optimism about this upcoming qualifying campaign, not only because more teams go [to the finals] but also the results we have had. We didn't play well against Norway but won, we gave a professional performance against Poland and won and we have had really good performances against Croatia and Macedonia.

"All round there has been an improvement and standards have gone up. I can't put my finger on one specific thing that he [Strachan] has done. He doesn't mess about, he just tells it like it is. He is straight with the boys. You respect that and it has paid off."

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