GROUP 4 STAND­INGS

The Scotsman - - Sports Digest -

Scot Gem­mill is adamant he would never ask Oliver Burke to play through the pain bar­rier as he in­sisted Scot­land’s un­der-21 squad has suf­fi­cient fire­power without their ab­sent cap­tain.

The pow­er­ful 20-year-old has strug­gled with in­juries since mak­ing a £15 mil­lion switch to West Bromwich Al­bion in the sum­mer, mak­ing just two se­nior ap­pear­ances for the Bag­gies.

He played the full 90 min­utes for their un­der-21 side against Coven­try in the Checkatrade Tro­phy on Tues­day night, find­ing the net in a 2-1 de­feat as he mounts his lat­est re­cov­ery from a per­sis­tent ham­string com­plaint.

That could have, in the­ory, put him in con­tention for tonight’s Euro 2019 qual­i­fier against Latvia at Mcdiarmid Park and the fix­ture against Ukraine four days later. How­ever, Gem­mill be­lieves Burke’s fit­ness is the pri­or­ity as the most ex­pen­sive Scot­tish foot­baller in his­tory seeks to reach his po­ten­tial.

“West Brom made it clear they wanted him to con­tinue his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion with them, very thor­oughly and not take any risks,” said Gem­mill, ex­plain­ing Burke’s omis­sion.

“There’s good com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween [SFA head of foot­ball sci­ence and medicine] Graeme Jones and their med­i­cal staff. It’s all about Oli and what is best for him. It’s not about us. They have a duty to pro­tect him for their club.

“The bot­tom line is if he was 100 per cent fit he would be with us – or per­haps the full squad, as Malky [Mackay] has seen him with the 21s. He wants to play and we want him to play, but it’s just purely down to cir­cum­stances.”

In Burke’s ab­sence, the for me. The play­ers have proved them­selves at the younger age groups and also at their clubs.

“It’s our job to en­sure that the men­tal­ity and ap­proach is cor­rect. There’s no ques­tion this team has got that side to them. They are very pro­fes­sional, mo­ti­vated and have qual­ity.”

Scot­land fol­lowed a mag­nif­i­cent 2-0 win over The Nether­lands with a 3-1 de­feat against Eng­land and a tri­umph away to Latvia last month, leav­ing Gem­mill’s side in sec­ond spot in Group 4, a point ahead of the Dutch with a game in hand.

With An­dorra next up in March, the young Scots have a glo­ri­ous op­por­tu­nity to put them­selves in a ter­rific po­si­tion to reach Euro 2019 in Italy if they emerge vic­to­ri­ous from this dou­ble-header.

“It’s a big word, ‘if ’,” smiled Gem­mill. “But we are play­ing at home against a team seeded be­low us so there is an ex­pec­ta­tion on us to put on a per­for­mance.”

0 Oli Mcburnie scored against Latvia in Vil­nius last month.

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