Mackie’s best wishes for Naismith

Mackie was handed a start in the wide left-position recently

occupied by Naismith, who suffered cruciate ligament damage two

weeks ago, and cut inside brilliantly to slot home Scotland’s

second goal in a 2-1 victory in Larnaca. Naismith faces a battle to

hit peak form and fitness in time for the opening of Scotland’s

World Cup campaign next September. But, having just returned from a

nine-month lay-off from a broken leg in recent weeks, Mackie is not

looking to take Naismith’s place – he just wants his team-mate back

in the fold. “I’m gutted for Naisy, he’s a great lad,” Mackie said.

“I was in the squad with him the first time I was here and I really

liked him. “I’ve been there with a bad injury and I wish him all

the best. “More so than me doing well, I hope he comes back nice

and strong because it’s horrible when you get a bad injury. “I’m

sure he’ll be back and I can’t wait for him to be back in the squad

because the more quality we have the better.” Mackie suffered his

injury in an FA Cup tie against Blackburn in early January having

propelled his career up several levels in the first half of the

season. The former Plymouth player hit a goal spree in the first

few months of his Loftus Road career, which saw him win a Scotland

call-up. Mackie then scored his first goal for Scotland against the

Faroe Islands – but he had to wait a year for his fourth cap. “It

(the injury) was just a nightmare, it was terrible timing,” said

the 26-year-old, who has made five Barclays Premier League

appearances since his return. “I was doing really well for my club,

going for promotion and really frustrating missing the qualifiers.

“I had just become a regular part of the squad so I was gutted. But

that’s in the past, I put in a lot of hard work to get myself back

at this level. “Now I feel I’m back and have a bit more

experience.” The contribution of Mackie delighted Scotland manager

Craig Levein, who is looking to bolster the strength in depth of

his squad during a total of four friendlies before the World Cup

campaign begins. Scotland were without a number of regular starters

other than Naismith, including Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam, Scott

Brown, Barry Bannan and James McFadden. “We just have to get better

overall,” said Levein when asked what improvements he was looking

for. “We have to create a bigger pool of players so that if we get

injuries and such like during the World Cup we are able to replace

people with a similar standard of players. “We lost Steven Naismith

unfortunately and Jamie Mackie comes in and for me he did a very

good job of trying to get close to the standards that Steven set.

“We need to build a strong pool, to get together often enough to

work on things. If we can keep winning it is a very good habit to

be in.” Naismith has been crucial in linking up with Scotland’s

lone striker but all four midfielders ahead of anchor man Darren

Fletcher got into some advanced positions throughout last night’s

game. Although Scotland struggled to get a grip of the game until

Kenny Miller’s dipping volley opened the scoring in the 23rd

minute, their early problems were caused by slackness further back.

James Morrison, who enjoyed another run in central midfield,

believes learning how to support the lone striker is the key to

Scotland’s progress. “If we don’t it sort of kills the flow of our

game, really,” the West Brom player said. “With that formation the

midfielders have to support or Kenny is isolated. But the wide

players supported well. “We could do better in that aspect but

we’re still learning. It’s a bit of a new team but we’re coming

together and we can only do better.” Scotland conceded three

minutes after Mackie’s 56th-minute goal when Dimitris Christofi

clinically punished a lapse of concentration from Phil Bardsley,

but they comfortably held on for their seventh win in 11

internationals. “I think we made it hard for ourselves in the later

stages of the game,” Morrison said. “We should have killed it off

really. It was a bit of a sloppy goal after scoring. “But overall

it was another victory and a couple of good goals.” Morrison

admitted they had made a slow start to the game. “It’s difficult to

break teams down,” he said. “It’s quite different and a bit of a

surprise for us to try and break teams down because we’re not

really used to it. “But when we got that goal I thought we carved

them open a little bit and it was a shame we couldn’t have got more

goals. “The main thing is to keep winning, it gives you confidence.

“We have beaten some good teams and the lads are buzzing and

playing well together.”