Billy Stark: Inexperience cost Scotland U-21s

Callum Paterson battles for possession while, below, Danny Handling, second left, and Sam Stanton, right, trudge off
Callum Paterson battles for possession while, below, Danny Handling, second left, and Sam Stanton, right, trudge off
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Scotland surrendered a two-goal lead in the second half against Hungary as coach Billy Stark experimented with seven debutants on the night.

Goals from Celtic’s Callum McGregor and Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser granted the young Scots a 2-0 interval advantage, but the Hungarians responded in the second period with striker Andras Rado scoring a penalty and then an equaliser two minutes from full-time.

The Hibs pairing of Sam Stanton and Danny Handling made their Under-21 international debuts as substitutes and looked comfortable. However, they will want to forget the second 45 minutes, along with their colleagues.

Stark, right, explained that the youthfulness of his team, the number of debutants and the raft of substitutions all contributed to Scotland’s downfall. However, he declared himself pleased with all seven debutants on the night – Stanton, Handling, Sean Kelly, Joe Chalmers, Craig Slater, John McGinn and Jack Grimmer.

“The feeling is of disappointment because we got ourselves into a good winning position,” he said. “You try to take different things out of these games. We had to look at getting players game time. The team that finished, apart from Callum McGregor, would all be available for the next campaign, so it was a young side. I think that showed a wee bit because the game management wasn’t great from us.

“Slater, [Kenny] McLean, [Stuart] Armstrong and McGregor were absolutely excellent in the first half. They played modern football, got out of tight situations with good feet and played incisive passes. We were a bit negative early on, then we really showed we could play.

“We made changes so the defensive side of things isn’t a reflection on the boys who came on. I’m delighted to get players like Slater, McGinn, Stanton, Chalmers all debuting. It’s a lot of debuts in one night. You could argue it’s not that surprising that we didn’t get going in the second half. Plus, the opposition showed they were more than decent.”

It was Hearts striker Callum Paterson who quickly began troubling the visitors with his physical presence and pace. He was fouled by the aptly-named Hungarian centre-back Patrik Poor on 25 minutes, and from the resultant free-kick McGregor drove the opening goal low through the wall and goalkeeper.

The bizarre sight of around 100 children running along the Tannadice track as the game raged on was the next moment of note. More supporters had turned up than the SFA anticipated, which meant an overspill from the George Fox Stand into the old shed via pitchside as all other turnstiles were closed.

Goalscorer McGregor turned provider with a low cross for Fraser to stroke Scotland’s second from eight yards on 37 minutes. Stark’s side had built a comfortable cushion for themselves despite the Hungarians probing their defence on several occasions during the first half.

Hibs midfielder Stanton entered the fray for the second half to make his debut along with Chalmers of Falkirk. Fulham’s Grimmer and McGinn St Mirren followed soon after.

Hungary took a braver approach in their play after the interval and it paid off on 67 minutes. Chalmers tried to head a deep cross for a corner at the back post but the ball hit his arm and a penalty was awarded. Andras Rado slotted it high beyond the Scotland goalkeeper Chris Kettings from 12 yards.

Balint Vecsei wasted a fine chance to equalise minutes later, scuffing his shot wide from 12 yards after collecting Rado’s lay-off. Rado was then equally profligate from Vecsei’s cross ball as he sent a shot high over the goal frame. In between, another debutant appeared off the substitutes’ bench in the shape of Handling.

Scotland were on the ropes as Hungary pushed for an equaliser. It arrived through the irrepressible Rado two minutes from time. Taking Kovacs’ pass, he fashioned space inside the penalty box for a curling finish into the corner of the net. That denied the young Scots victory in their final warm-up match before May’s vital European Under-21 Championship qualifier with Holland.

“The penalty spooked us a wee bit and the changes meant we found it difficult to get any rhythm or real organisation in defence in the second half,” said Stark. “We used a new system and had a lot of changes in personnel. Up against a decent side, you could argue that we’d maybe have taken a draw before the game. I have to be honest, when we’ve played well and got into a winning position, it’s disappointing.”

Scotland (4-3-1-2): Archer (Kettings 46); M Fraser, McGhee, Findlay, Kelly (Chalmers 46); Armstrong (Stanton 46), Slater (Grimmer 58), McLean (McGinn 58); McGregor; R Fraser (Handling 77), Paterson (Herron 77). Subs: Henly.

Hungary (4-1-4-1): Jova; Szolnoki, Poor, Lang, Barath (Kelemen 70); Vecsei, Nagy (Szakaly 84); Gyurjan (Vass 84), Kovacs, Bacsa (Ugrai 87); Rado. Subs: Gyuru, Batik, Tamas, Jagodics.

Referee: R Liesveld (Holland).

Attendance: 4537.