Stark's sigh of relief as Rhodes proves worth

AS JOB applications go, it ticked all the right boxes.

Loading Comments
Share
Print
Jordan Rhodes showed his striker's instinct by pouncing on the ball to fire Scotland into a two-goal lead last night
Jordan Rhodes showed his striker's instinct by pouncing on the ball to fire Scotland into a two-goal lead last night

Okay, it was Luxembourg, ranked 142nd in the world, but it would have been a huge disaster had Billy Stark not steered his side to victory.

Even before he selected a positive formation to deliver a much-needed 2-1 win – thanks to first-half goals from Jordan Rhodes – Stark's name had suddenly and surprisingly risen to the top of the list of candidates to succeed Craig Levein on a permanent basis.

While reports that Gordon Strachan had removed himself from the list of runners and riders because he considers his future to lie back in club football proved to be spurious – and, some suspect, mischievous – others who had started top of the betting for the job, including Graeme Souness, Walter Smith, as well as Alex McLeish, have definitely removed themselves from the race.

As one of the few still standing, the studious Stark now has to be viewed as a serious candidate, though the continued presence of Joe Jordan, Owen Coyle and Strachan in the short-list, plus the shock addition of Sven-Goran Eriksson will prevent him rising to become a major liability for the bookies.

The SFA appear to be trying to buy time by announcing they have been pleasantly surprised at interest from further afield.

It would be no surprise if their procrastinating extended beyond the date of Scotland's next fixture, the friendly against Estonia at Pittodrie in February.

That would mean Stark getting a further opportunity to state his case for promotion from the Under-21s, though it has yet to be established if the likeable character really wants to stick his head above the parapet and into the firing line for the kind of flak which rained down on Levein.

The fact he has a record of one win from one game is as much a relief to the SFA as it will be a source of pride to Stark. The last thing this beleaguered group needed was another embarrassing and demeaning result.

The morale has been lifted as they head off for the international winter break, though no-one is in any doubt that beating Luxembourg – even given their improvement which included a draw in Northern Ireland – is no measure that you are on the up.

What is indisputable is that Rhodes is ready to make the step up to a regular starting place. The Blackburn striker's progress was stunted by Levein, who deemed him not yet up to the mark.

The fact he scored in his first start, against Australia in August, and has now added another two in his second last night, surely gives the lie to that theory.

Stark elected to go with two up – Rhodes partnering the veteran Kenny Miller – and added two attacking players in the midfield four, Andrew Shinnie and Steven Naismith.

For the final section of the match, he added the firepower of Leigh Griffiths.

In doing so, he symbolically threw off the shackles placed on the national team by the ultra-cautious Levein, albeit the fact it was a friendly and against Luxembourg gave Stark licence to be cavalier.

Rhodes repaid his faith with the first goal after 10 minutes, settling nerves all round in the process.

Luxembourg's defending left much to be desired, but the young striker had to be alert to take advantage after a cross struck a diving defender's hand, and he was, nodding in from close range.

His nose for an opportunity was also evident for the second goal 13 minutes later, when he hung back and was found to be in perfect position to latch on to a blocked clearance from a Shinnie shot.

Not even the fright provided when Lars Gerson curled a free-kick – conceded by Liam Kelly who had replaced Charlie Mulgrew at the break – over the wall and beyond Matt Gilks' reach a minute after the break could unnerve the Scots.

The introduction of a clutch of substitutes – Griffiths and Murray Davidson were also given their first international caps – ensured any rhythm built up in the first half was disrupted, and the men from the grand duchy took advantage as they found the route to Gilks' goal more open than it had been previously.

But Rhodes' double proved to be enough to give Scotland the win they so badly needed, and avoided the shock result which would have undermined any claim Stark may hope to have for making the gig permanent.

He is honest enough to admit this was more a banana skin avoided than any kind of major step in Scotland's rehabilitation. But it has at least arrested the slide, and for that everyone should be grateful.

Now the important work begins behind closed doors at Hampden, from where white smoke soon could provide the real confirmation that a new era has begun.

Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on Evening Times on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

107287

Have you got a story?

Contact the news desk on 0141 302 6520 or email news@eveningtimes.co.uk
A weekly round up of social highlights

A weekly round up of social highlights

Cat's Eyes on Glasgow

Meet Charlie the referendum rooster who decided the result in his own unique way

Times Out

Entertainment

Lifestyle

TV Advert
Gail’s Gab

Gail’s Gab

Gail Sheridan is a mother-of-one and wife to Tommy and she likes to get political with the hot topic of the week in her column Gail’s Gab.

Michelle McManus

Michelle McManus

Sussed in the City

Whatever the result, the fans are Still Game

Janice Bell

Janice Bell

You couldn’t make up half the stuff that happens to PA Janice Bell- some of the jams she gets herself into are worth a story or two.