‘Spe­cial’ Burke can help Scot­land reach Euro 2020, in­sists El Makrini

Evening Times - - SPORT -

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.”

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