Former Scotland striker Mark Burchill is urging Gordon Strachan to unleash Ryan Fraser on England.
Burchill, who played in both legs of the 1999 European Championship play-off against England, believes 23-year-old Fraser is ready to start for Scotland. He has implored national coach Strachan to stick with the crux of the team which beat Slovenia 1-0 in March – but wants Fraser to get his first cap.
“I think Ryan Fraser will get the nod. He’s had a brilliant season for Bournemouth,” said Burchill. “He’s sharp and he won five penalties this season. He’ll get running at England inside the box and will cause them real problems. He’s better on the left and Robert Snodgrass is better on the right. Snoddy has got to perform for us. He’s a big-game player.
“For whatever reason over the last ten or 15 international games, we’ve stumbled across a team and never really got our best team out there. In the last game, against Slovenia, I thought we had our strongest team from what was available. Possibly, Ryan Fraser will come in on one of the wings this time.
“If we go for that team again, with Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong and James Morrison in midfield, Leigh Griffiths up front, Snodgrass on one wing and Fraser or James Forrest on the other, it’s probably our best front six. I hope we can get that team out there.
“Griffiths will score if he gets a chance. Even though it’s maybe not been his best season personally, he’s been involved in winning a treble with Celtic so he’ll be super-confident. He only needs one chance to score.
“Our midfield has got legs and energy. Morrison hasn’t had a great season but I think he’s done well for Scotland and deserves to play, along with Armstrong and Brown. They’ve both been unbelievable – the best in their positions in Scotland this year.
“I’m not worried about Kieran Tierney going in at right-back either. He’ll charge up and down there like he did previously, then you’ve got the outlet of Andy Robertson on the left side. I’m excited about it. I think we’ve got a good side, a team which should probably have been together for ten or 15 games rather than one or two. That’s the stage we’re at, though. We’ve found our best team and we need to stick with it.”
The challenge for whichever Scotland players take the field at Hampden afternoon will be coping with the intense hype. The Tartan Army regard England as their greatest enemy – a feeling reciprocated south of the Border.
Burchill discovered the depth of feeling between the two nations as a 19-year-old in 1999. He played as a substitute in both legs of the Euro 2000 play-off, which England won 2-1 on aggregate. “Driving to Hampden for that first play-off game, the streets were packed for miles. We had a police escort and still couldn’t get through the traffic and the fans. It was mental,” he recalled.
“Scotland fans would be going daft when they saw us on the bus, then a group of England fans saw the bus and were going crazy wanting to smash the bus in. It was quite intimidating. Hairs are standing on the back of your neck but you’re not really sure why. You’re like: ‘What is going on here?’
“I would say it was scary or eerie, just different to what you’d experienced before. I’d been involved in Celtic-Rangers games and they were pretty fierce. Because this was international football, you don’t really associate it with that. It certainly gave it an extra edge.
“Those games were play-offs so it was winner-takes-all. It was brilliant, an unbelievable atmosphere in both those games at Hampden and Wembley. This one is just as important. If we win it, we’re right back in the mix of things in the group and I really do think we can win.”
Scotland would close to within three points of Group F leaders England with a victory, raising hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
“I don’t think England are as scary as they were,” insisted Burchill. “They don’t have the worldwide stars they used to have, when every player in their side was one of the best in the world. They are a younger, emerging team. In four or five years, these England players will be top stars but this isn’t a bad time to play them.
“I think if we can ruffle them up, get in about them, we’ll have a chance. Scotland have the Celtic guys playing with huge confidence, the rest can jump on that and give us a real chance.
“The Dele Allis and Harry Kanes have played high-pressure games all season. If England go 1-0 up, it will be really difficult. If we keep it 0-0 for a long time, or even score first, then I think it swings in our favour with the fans behind us. If we can get Broony in about them and upsetting them, they won’t like it.”