Updated Tuesday, 8th May 2012
Scotland need a regular goal scorer and expectations lie heavy on Jordon Rhodes shoulders
Scotland Under-21s manager Billy Stark named Jordan Rhodes in his squad to play Bulgaria at the end of the month and is confident he will be able to continue his prolific goalscoring form. The Huddersfield striker was left out of the squad for the game against Italy last month as his club side was pushing for a play-off place in League One. Rhodes has scored an impressive six goals in five qualifying games so far - as well as 38 for the Terriers this season - and Stark hopes he will be on target again in the crunch game against Bulgaria. He said: "When you put a team on the park, you are always looking for ones who you can get a goal from. Jordan has had a fantastic season in terms of the number of goals he has scored. He has always had that, he is a goal threat. If you're playing 90 minutes against anybody, you would be pretty confident that Jordan will get a chance. He has proven he can take a good ratio of them."
(c) Ger Harley | SportPix
Stark is confident Rhodes will be in the right frame of mind for the game, regardless of the outcome of the play-offs. Rhodes' Huddersfield are due to play MK Dons in two semi-final legs. Stark added: "The timing of the game is not one you would particularly want, a couple of weeks after the end of the season. Jordan is involved in play-offs and you're ready to deal with euphoria or abject disappointment depending on how it goes. But he's such a level-headed boy that he will be fine and he's desperate to contribute to our cause."
Scotland sit behind Group 10 leaders Holland and a point ahead of nearest challengers Bulgaria with three games to go. Stark said: "Topping the group, you need to win all three games to have any chance. In terms of a second-place finish, I think two wins and a draw would have you right in there, the way the group is sitting just now. We will be positive, as we always are, and feel that we are confident about winning the game."
Scotland seem to do better away from home, with 5-1 and 2-1 wins over Luxembourg and Holland respectively while drawing all three games at home.And, ahead of the meeting with the Bulgarians at the Lovech Stadion, Stark admits he cannot put his finger on why their away record is so much better. He said: "Not really, to be honest with you. All international games are tough to win. Bulgaria and Austria at home were draws but, if I'm being honest, they were games that we could have lost. I couldn't say that we pummelled them and we were desperately unlucky not to win the games. It's probably what I expected, it's such a fine line. Going back to the last campaign, we played Belarus and Austria and we scored in the last couple of minutes of both games to win them by a one-goal margin. So that's the fine line. We didn't quite manage to do that against Bulgaria and Austria but we made sure that we didn't lose the games. We got valuable points which I hope prove to be valuable at the end of the campaign."
Stark used the friendly against Italy to have a look at some younger players - including 16-year-old Chelsea forward Islam Feruz - but has reverted back to a more experienced squad for this crucial game.He said: "That was always the plan. The Italy game was an opportunity to bring in some of the younger ones. That calibre of opposition can prove to be difficult but I think some of them did quite well and looked good in that older jersey. It has helped us broaden the player base but it was always the intention to stick with the ones who have been doing well."