‘Special’ Burke can help Scotland reach Euro 2020, insists El Makrini
IT says a great deal about how impressive former Rangers winger Chris Burke was here that one of his team-mates identified him as being exactly the type of player Scotland will need to prevail in the Euro 2020 play-offs in March.
Burke will be 36 in seven days’ time and won the first of his seven caps 14 seasons ago but Dutch midfielder Mohamed El Makrini, who claimed the assist for each of the veteran’s two goals here, insists that he can offer the element of unpredictability which could unsettle the Israelis.
El Makrini’s slide-rule pass set up Burke for a venomous angled drive to open the scoring, his perfect cross for Eamonn Brophy saw the striker head home Killie’s second and Burke ran almost 50 yards with the ball following a Hearts corner before placing his shot behind the hopelessly exposed Joel Pereira.
Burke turned 17-year-old Aaron Hickey inside out so often it resembled a dad keeping the ball from his primary school-age son and the teenager was replaced at the interval, although his team-mates did not offer him much by way of protection. It was Burke’s scintillating performance which had the Ayrshire fans – and El Makrini – purring, though.
“I don’t know everything about how Scotland play on the right side and who is involved there but, if you see Chris in this match, then you can see his quality,” he said. “With his experience, he could maybe be important in the play-offs.
“Of course the Scotland manager knows him really well. These playoffs are obviously very important and maybe you need something extra. He has that, absolutely. You can see the way he created things in this game; only a few players have that.
“Chris was fantastic today. He is a special player. He can hold the ball, he can deliver a fantastic cross and his movement is very clever. His experience and quality is very important for the team.
“I think that was maybe the best performance since I came here. As a team, we were really compact and able to hurt them and, in the first half, we were really good. We had a few chances to score more but 3-0 is fine. Five or six would have been great but it is still a very good result.”
Hearts midfielder Glenn Whelan won his 91st cap for the Republic of Ireland against Denmark last week but he was anonymous here and Killie’s Alan Power and Gary
Dicker must wonder what they need to do to earn a call-up from Mick McCarthy.
Northern Ireland full-back Michael Smith, meanwhile, admitted that the Edinburgh club – who face Rangers at Ibrox this weekend – are relegation candidates.
“We’re only one loss away from being at the bottom again,” he said.
“We need to pull our finger out and everyone must realise we’re in a scrap at the bottom. We have the quality to get out of this but, again, it’s a mentality problem.
“We had the same tactics and the same personnel [as in the 5-2 win over St Mirren in the previous game] but it didn’t happen for us. We had to change it ourselves but we didn’t look like getting back into the game.”
However, he absolved interim manager Austin MacPhee of blame for the defeat, which means that Hearts now have just one win from their last 13 away games in the league.
“Every loss is down to the players,” he said. “This is solely on us; we were very poor right from the off and I could sense that we just weren’t at the races. Do we need the stability of a manager? Yes and no. [Owner] Ann Budge has made a decision to take her time and it’s a big decision.
“I support that and, whatever she decides in the end, we’ll be fully behind it. When a manager gets sacked there’s always a bit of chaos around the club.”