Stark still has belief in Scots U-21s despite loss

Hearts' Jason Holt looks on as 'Valeri Qazaishvili (3rd from left hidden) is mobbed by his team mates after opening the scoring for Georgia. Pic: SNS

Hearts' Jason Holt looks on as 'Valeri Qazaishvili (3rd from left hidden) is mobbed by his team mates after opening the scoring for Georgia. Pic: SNS

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SCOTLAND UNDER-21s head coach Billy Stark is convinced his team can qualify for the 2015 European finals – if they can avenge their 2-1 defeat in Georgia.

Scotland lost goals in each half in Tbilisi from Valeri Kazaishvili and Jambul Jigauri before Jordan Archer saved a penalty, although they pushed for an equaliser after substitute Lewis MacLeod pulled one back with a 25-yard volley just after the 79th-minute spot-kick.

The result left the Scots on six points from four games and three behind second-placed Slovakia, who they beat at home last week.

Two Hearts players – defender Jordan McGhee and midfielder Jason Holt – started the match, while forward Callum Paterson came on for his Holt after 60 minutes.

Scotland next face Georgia at St Mirren Park on November 14 and Stark knows his players must turn the tables if they are to push for second spot behind leaders Holland and a possible play-off place. “If we can reverse the result in Paisley next month, then we have nine points from five games and that gives us ample opportunity to try and qualify and I’ve said that to them,” Stark said. “We had to be a bit critical of them because we didn’t find the form we know they are capable of.

“That happens in games and sometimes you can do things that compensate for that and one of them is if you get a chance early on, to take it.

“They showed late on that they dragged themselves back up the pitch and made a couple of opportunities so they didn’t go down meekly.

“I felt Georgia were a bit fragile going into the game and I was hoping that we would be able to make them even more fragile by getting in front.

“We had a couple of great chances early on and if we had got ahead, their fragility would have been more evident.

“But when we missed those chances, we gave them encouragement and they grew in confidence.

“We couldn’t get close enough to them and we gave the ball away too often.”

Scotland came close to an eighth-minute opener when Dylan McGeouch hit the post after Stuart Armstrong had seen a shot parried after good work from Stevie May.

However, Georgia then had some good spells of possession without testing Archer.

Armstrong and May combined again midway through the half with the Dundee United midfielder this time playing in the St Johnstone striker, but May could not get enough power in his shot and Giorgi Nadiradze saved.

Scotland then came under pressure and Archer made an excellent save to stop Jigauri converting at the near post.

Giorgi Kvilitaia blasted over after a corner before Georgia took the lead in the 39th minute when Kazaishvili fired low into the corner of the net.

Archer made second-half saves from Kazaishvili and Chanturia but the Tottenham goalkeeper was beaten again in the 70th minute when Jigauri netted from 20 yards following good work from Kazaishvili.

Matters got worse for the young Scotland side when Celtic defender Stuart Findlay was ruled to have used his arm in a penalty box challenge and 
the referee pointed to the spot.

Chanturia converted the initial penalty but a re-take was ordered and Archer dived low to stop the second effort.

That sparked a Scotland fightback and in-form MacLeod pulled one back two minutes later when he fired home from 25 yards.

The Scots pushed for an equaliser but Aberdeen full-back Clark Robertson had a close-range shot saved and McGhee headed over from an injury-time corner.

The defeat is Scotland’s second in four qualifiers following their 4-0 loss to Holland last month.