After opening their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign with an underwhelming 0-0 draw at home to Serbia, manager Craig Levein was the first to admit that he was wrong to wait so long to ring the attacking changes.
The 52,000-strong crowd at Hampden had been chanting Jordan Rhodes’ name long before Levein introduced the £8m striker in the 80th minute, replacing a misfiring Kenny Miller, the Vancouver Whitecaps player having missed a couple of big chances for the home side.
It’s not the first time Levein’s conservative tactics have come under fire – famously being roundly lambasted by the Scottish fans and press alike when playing without a recognised striker against the Czech Republic in Euro 2012 qualifying.
Back then, his 4-6-0 formation was not quite the equivalent of Vicente Del Bosque’s version at the Euros, and fans were again upset at an inability to turn chances into goals against their similarly toothless Serbian opposition.
Levein agreed in the post-match interview that he should have introduced Rhodes and fellow forward Jamie Mackie earlier, and with another home game hot on the heels against Macedonia on Tuesday night, the Scotland boss knows that he can’t afford another failure to pick up maximum points in a tough qualifying group that also includes Belgium, Croatia and Wales.
With Stephen Fletcher scoring goals in the Premier League for Sunderland but unable to end his dispute with the national boss, it is Blackburn’s new striker that the Scottish fans are pinning their hopes on next week.
The Macedonians will be seen as the weakest of the sides in their group, being the lowest FIFA ranked at number 97, but the visitors have actually only lost two of their last six games, losing only 1-0 in Croatia on Friday. Having held Portugal and Slovakia recently, they’ll be more than confident of nicking a point in Scotland.
The home side are understandable 4/6 favs, with odds of 4/1 for a shock away win, but many might fancy the 4/5 on the draw unless Scotland line up with more intent this time around.
Should Levein opt for two upfront or even drop Miller, Rhodes is likely to be the man given the nod, and should he start, he’s 9/2 to net the game’s first goal. For another option, Shaun Maloney is on set pieces and has already registered for Wigan this term, and can be bagged at 8/1 to open the scoring.
Despite their lowly status, Macedonia are not San Marino, and they don’t concede many – having only three goals against them in their last six games. It makes the 1-0 home win the best pick at 9/2, though 2-0 is 6/1 for those who fancy Levein’s men to finally find a cutting edge.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.