STEVIE May has been rewarded for his good early-season form for St Johnstone with a first call-up to the Scotland Under-21s for next Tuesday’s historic clash with England at Bramall Lane.
It is the first time in nearly 20 years that the two countries have met at this level, and adding further significance to the occasion is England manager Roy Hodgson’s decision to take charge of the hosts after Stuart Pearce’s departure.
May has caught the eye after scoring winning goals against Rosenborg and Hearts this season for St Johnstone, having only rejoined the club in the summer after productive loan spells at Alloa and Hamilton Accies. Aged only 20, he has already struck 50 senior goals in just 73 games as a professional.
“His form in pre-season on the back of what he did at Alloa and Hamilton was too good to ignore,” said manager Billy Stark, who watched the player play a decisive part in St Johnstone’s win over Hearts on Sunday. “He has got one element that they don’t all have – a hunger to score.
“He looks like he really wants to score and although that sounds like it is stating the bleeding obvious we don’t actually have too many like that, unfortunately.”
Celtic’s Tony Watt, who has scored fives times in seven appearances for the Under-21s, is also included, as is Chelsea’s Islam Feruz, who has struck twice in three games. Hearts defender Brad McKay has been called up for the first time.
The Scotland Under-21s are hoping to avenge a 1-0 defeat suffered the last time they met England, back in 1993. Chris Sutton was included in the England side that day, as was Jamie Redknapp. Stark himself was involved in the first-ever Scotland Under-21 fixture – against England at Bramall Lane in 1977. Laurie Cunningham scored the winner for the hosts that day in a 1-0 win.
“That was a historic game too because Laurie Cunningham was the first black player to play for England,” Stark recalled. “I was in my usual spot on the bench, right enough!”
With Hodgson in the opposite dug-out added to the fact that various England teams have suffered disappointing results of late, the home team will not lack motivation. “The Under-20s not doing so well at the World Cup, the Under-21s falling short and even the English women’s team not doing so well, that kind of gets lumped in together,” pointed out Stark. “Maybe a wounded animal is too big a phrase but they will be smarting.”
Stark has urged his own players not to be fazed by the names – and the value – of several of the players that will likely be facing them. Wilfried Zaha has joined Manchester United from Crystal Palace for £12 million, while there are others such as Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling who are playing regularly in the English Premier League.
“Strength and depth they have that big time over us without a doubt, in terms of the quality of the player we have to be honest,” said Stark.
“Even Jack Wilshere and Phil Jones are still eligible so that brings home what we are up against in terms of trying to compete, but compete we will. We can’t be seduced by the transfer fees, the amount of money they are earning and the cars they drive.
“It is 11 v 11 and when they pull the jersey on hopefully they can find that wee bit extra.”