The Scotland Under-21 manager Billy Stark watched his new-look team beaten 3-1 by an equally fledgling Northern Ireland side at New Douglas Park on Tuesday night and then revealed he has just one more game to fashion a squad capable of qualifying for the 2011 European Championships.
The friendly date confirmed for February is the last time Stark will have his players before the next European Championship qualifiers begin in March and on last night's evidence, the young Scots will have a job to make the finals. Jamie Murphy gave the hosts a third-minute lead but the Bournemouth striker Josh McQuoid, making his debut, scored twice to turn the game in the visitors' favour.
The Scotland midfielder Scott Arfield had a 43rd-minute penalty saved by Northern Ireland's goalkeeper Trevor Carson and to add to Stark's displeasure, Andrew Little ended the contest three minutes after the break when he hammered home from close range. The Scotland manager, who gave debuts to 10 players, knows he has little time to whip his side in to shape.
"For one of their goals we had two centre halves going for the ball and that's what happens when you only have new players together for a couple of days," he said. "The players met on Sunday and we trained on Monday. We have one more friendly and it is difficult to get the players released for any more games. But that's not a complaint. That's the way international football is and it's not an excuse."
The Northern Ireland manager, Steve Beaglehole, is planning to host a two-day training camp for his players in February. Beaglehole wants to get the group back together again in three months, following their win over Scotland. There are also plans in the pipeline for another friendly, this time against Ukraine in March. On the idea behind the camp, Beaglehole said: "It would be good to see maybe 24-25 players during the international break. The plan is to have training sessions on the Monday and the Tuesday. Then they would go back to their clubs on the Wednesday. I am also hoping the friendly with Ukraine comes off, because they will be a good test for us."
Beaglehole was also impressed with McQuoid. "He has been playing wide, but I saw his role as down the middle With the pace he's got, he caused problems for Scotland," he said. "He looked like a natural centre-forward and was the most effective player on the park."
There was no respite for Beaglehole after the game at Hamilton, as he drove straight home – 257 miles away – and was in at 4am. He was then back on the training ground coaching Leicester's Academy side first thing the next morning.Reuse content