Scotland suffering 3-0 defeats in their past two World Cup qualifiers makes it difficult to pinpoint their most deep-seated deficiencies. An inability to score goals and no capacity to prevent them paints an all-encompassing bleak picture of Gordon Strachan’s side ahead of tonight’s potential last hurrah in this qualifying campaign at home to Slovenia.
In recent years, whenever Scotland have struggled to find the net, there has been a clamour for Jordan Rhodes to be given an opportunity. The 27-year-old’s career has gone sideways this season. And what do you know, this seems precisely when he is in the frame to revive a moribund international career.
An absence of game time at Middlesbrough gave way to a late January transfer window move down a level to Sheffield Wednesday – where he has been keeping Steven Fletcher on the bench as he has bagged the only three goals he has netted this season.
Assistant Mark McGhee hinted the other day that Rhodes could get the call because he has a scoring pedigree that is all-too-sadly lacking among Scotland options, Leigh Griffiths apart. McGhee suggested there must be a better spread of players who score goals at club level for Scotland to improve their strike-rate. On that front, Stuart Armstrong’s 13 goals for Celtic this season makes him a valuable commodity. It leaves him only one goal shy of team-mate Griffiths, the top club scorer in the squad but not a regular for his team – a lack of game time that is also true of Chris Martin and Steven Naismith as well as Fletcher.
McGhee admits they have had a rethink over the perception that Rhodes, only comes alive in the box, but they may have been forced into that rethink with so few alternatives. “I think the perception has been that [he only comes alive in the box] has been our perception, been my perception, but I think seeing him recently, against Canada and at training, he looks to me a player that has developed and is doing much, much better. His play outside of the box is much improved I think,” said McGhee.
“He has got such an eye for goal. Gordon was standing beside me at training the other day and at one point Jordan scored a goal and he said ‘aye, just pass it into the net’. And it was like that, he just rolled it firm enough and fast enough that the goalie wasn’t getting it but there was no urgency about it. It was just total calmness. He is a good finisher, he really is.”
As is Armstrong, which makes him precious to a squad that is hardly overflowing with them. “We need goals in the team. I always do an exercise at the start of the season where you look at your team and you look at the number of goals that they get consistently over their careers and add them up. If it adds up to 40 you are going to get relegated, if it adds up to 70 then you have got a chance. It is absolutely correct, check it.
“If you look at the team we had against Canada [for Wednesday’s 1-1 draw] and we had a side who gets five goals a season on average – between them! – then you are going to be in trouble. You need to have goals in your team and players who have scored goals consistently are the ones who will score you goals. If you have a team full of people who look like good players but don’t score goals then you are going to have a problem. Armstrong is one who has a goal in him at the minute therefore he needs to be considered.” He could hardly not be.