Craig Levein has defended his decision to give goals sensation Jordan Rhodes just ten minutes of Hampden action as Scotland fired blanks in their opening World Cup match against Serbia.
The £8 million Blackburn Rovers’ striker was left kicking his heels on the bench as Levein’s side sought that elusive goal despite an increasingly anxious Tartan Army chanting for him with almost half-an-hour to go.
Rhodes, who claimed his first Scotland goal in last month’s friendly win against Australia at Easter Road having been promoted from the Under-21 camp, was finally introduced alongside Queens Park Rangers hitman James Mackie, but it proved too little too late as Scotland’s hopes of qualifying for the finals in Brazil in 2014 took an early setback.
Levein, though, insisted he was right to have started with veteran forward Kenny Miller as a lone striker in the coach’s preferred 4-1-4-1 formation, but, he admitted that in hindsight he might have thrown on Rhodes and Mackie a little earlier, opting instead to give Celtic winger James Forrest the chance to crack the Serbian defence.
Adamant he couldn’t allow himself to be influenced by the wishes of the crowd, Levein said: “I was really pleased with Kenny. I thought he was excellent. He worked his socks off for the team. He got us up the pitch and had a couple of opportunities for himself.
“Would I class the two of them as the same player just now? I would not. What Jordan can do is have an impact on the game and it might be tomorrow night in the game when he has an impact.
“Jordan is a young lad learning his way in the game and I will make my judgments based on what I see in training, who we are playing, all these sort of things. Jordan has come on the scene, scored a lot of goals and in the supporters’ minds, and rightly so, Jordan equals goals, but it doesn’t always work like that.
“I put James [Forrest] on to open up the game and see if we could get round the back of them and he did towards the end of the match. I have to make judgments, what I think is the right thing to do at the time.”
While believing both Rhodes and Mackie had done well in the few minutes of action they saw, Levein argued: “If you want to talk who impacted the game most then there was only one player and that was James Mackie who made a difference with his power and pace.”
Levein accepted the reaction of the fans, but insisted he couldn’t let them sway his thinking. He said: “People get tense and frustrated late in matches if you are not winning and I understand that.
“But I have to use my experience. If every time the fans start shouting for a player and I put him on because they want him on then you are as well not having a manager because the supporters are picking the team.
“In the situation I did what I considered to be the right changes at the right times, although I might have gone a bit earlier with the two strikers.”