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Stark innovations are few as goals come from reliable source

This game was never going to offer any revelations.

Billy Stark made the best of what was available to him. Picture: SNS
Billy Stark made the best of what was available to him. Picture: SNS

There is little kudos to be gained, after all, in overcoming a side ranked so low as Luxembourg, a national team that once went 12 years without a win. Billy Stark had to grasp the opportunity of being the interim manager, but he also had to ignore the circumstances. If there were no lasting judgements to be made, there was at least a chance for individuals to make an impression.

Stark tends to be an unassuming figure, and he has moved into a prominent place in the queue to succeed Craig Levein through stealth. It will always be left to others to extol Stark's virtues, since he is prone to modesty but also because the work of an under-21 manager, or an assistant alongside the late Tommy Burns at club level, will seldom generate considerable attention.

Players who have worked with Stark talk warmly of his qualities, but he had to trust those he selected last night to make a more relevant case for him to step up to the senior job on a full-time basis. In one sense they did, since the performance was committed and did not tend to slump into a humdrum mood even when substitutions interrupted the flow of the game in the second-half, but the level of the performance did fall dramatically. That is often the way in friendly matches, but Stark would have preferred a more convincing outcome.

There were small innovations, since Andrew Shinnie, making his international debut, and Steven Naismith often swopped flanks, while Kenny Miller was charged with dropping off the front to link up with the midfield. Jordan Rhodes played off the shoulder of the last Luxembourg defender, but showed willingness to move into the channels to open up the home defence. This did not diminish his threat, since he scored his second goal after making such a run, moving the ball on to Shinnie, then surging into the penalty area to finish.

The tendency is to list the areas of Rhodes' game that need improvement, but it is his instinct that is flawless. He scores the goals of a striker who naturally takes up the most dangerous positions. Scotland's opening goal came when Paul Dixon's cross hit a defender before Rhodes then nodded it off a post and over the line. It was a scrappy effort, but a clear example of the striker's worth.

Supporters might have been inclined to use Rhodes' two goals as a further rebuke to Levein, but this friendly could bear no comparison with Scotland's competitive fixtures. The drop in quality of the opponents was too stark, but the occasion could at least be treated as a rehabilitation exercise. Nine players withdrew from the original squad, but that might have added some urgency to the performance since the likes of Shinnie, Leigh Griffiths, Liam Kelly and Murray Davidson brought the ambition to impress when they arrived as replacements.

Shinnie has been a bright performer for Inverness Caledonian Thistle this season, scoring regularly from an attacking midfield role. His display was solid, even if it was mostly restricted to moments on the periphery of the game. Naismith was more able to contribute, trusting in his sense of when to move infield and support the play from a narrower position.

Charlie Mulgrew was Scotland's most dynamic individual in the opening half, often striding forward from central midfield to deliver deep crosses into the Luxembourg penalty area. There was a nimbleness, too, in the way he sidestepped opponents, and he might have felt compelled to be a lively figure since it was always likely that he would be replaced at half-time due to Celtic's heavy schedule of fixtures.

Kelly would have hoped for a serene introduction to international football when he made his debut as Mulgrew's replacement, but the Kilmarnock midfielder committed the foul that allowed the home side to pull a goal back straight from a free-kick. Luxembourg were emboldened, and created a couple of dangerous moments. By the end, the sense was of Scotland wanting this fixture out of the way. There are more pressing issues to confront.

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