ANYONE scratching around for positives to take from a narrow friendly victory against a nation ranked 144th in the world will likely have their work cut out.
That Scotland won for the first time in five games is something to cherish, perhaps, while there were debuts for Andrew Shinnie, Liam Kelly, Murray Davidson and Leigh Griffiths that some may view as a sign of progress. Perhaps most significantly, however, was the performance of Jordan Rhodes.
The Blackburn Rovers striker scored twice in the first half, passed up another decent chance, and was later denied a hat trick only by a somewhat contentious offside decision. Granted it was only against Luxembourg, and his performance tailed off in the second half, but Rhodes' progress remains the one thing that Scotland fans can cling to during this period of otherwise unrelenting misery. Craig Levein seemed unsure about Rhodes, praising him before the World Cup double-header against Serbia and Macedonia and then later insisting that the 22 year-old "wasn't ready for international football".
Billy Stark, in temporary charge of the senior side, was never likely to harbour similar doubts. Stark gave Rhodes his debut with the under-21s then watched him wreak havoc on opposition defences, the forward racking up goals with merry abandon including a hat trick against Luxembourg on the same ground as Wednesday night's friendly. Stark is not among the favourites to succeed Levein on a permanent basis but presumably whoever is installed will be grateful to have a striker with such predatory instincts to call upon.
Rhodes is such an unassuming, modest figure that he would probably rather disembowel himself with a spoon than boast about his attributes, but his international team-mates have no such problem doing so on his behalf. Darren Fletcher, in particular, believes the striker is an asset that Scotland are lucky to have.
"People may say that all he does is score goals, but what a knack to have," said the Manchester United midfielder. "You just look at the way the ball fell for him to get his second goal – that's just a goalscorer's instinct. He's always picking your brain for little things, which is great to see.
"Goalscorers are few and far between at international football and there's not many matches won now by a barrowload of goals. So if you have someone who can sneak one for a narrow win that's a great thing to have.
"It's not been easy for him at club and international level in recent times as he's lost managers with both. But he's a level-headed lad and that means he never gets too high or too low when things in football change so quickly. You saw in the Luxembourg game that he snatched at the first chance he had and some other young lads might have let that affect them. But that's not Jordan."
Fletcher compared Rhodes' talents to that of Ally McCoist, who scored 19 goals for Scotland in his 61 appearances. "He's the closest thing to Ally we've had since his heyday," he said. "The thing that people say now about Jordan they said way back then with Ally. I remember wondering why the ball always used to fall for Ally inside the box. Well, that happens for Jordan too and it's good for Scotland.
"Look at the second goal in Luxembourg. He also makes great runs, which again is something that he will develop even more in time. Sir Alex Ferguson is always drumming into the strikers at United to get across the defender and make that half a yard, which is all you need at the highest level to nick a goal. Jordan's already doing that and he will get better at it as years go on."
Levein was always pilloried for being too cautious a manager – mention of the strikerless formation in Prague will be chiselled into his Scotland headstone – which makes it all the more ironic that the national team's strengths undoubtedly lie in midfield and attack, rather than in defence.
"If you look at the attacking options we have it's quite a luxury for the next manager," said Fletcher. "It's funny how it goes – for a while we were overloaded with defenders. We may be a bit lopsided with attacking qualities, but I'm sure that we can get things right all over the park."