Scotland Under-21 manager Billy Stark feels England are the perfect opponents as he steps up preparations for his side’s upcoming European qualifiers.
The Scots made a winning start in their bid to reach the next Uefa Under-21 Championship with a comfortable defeat of Luxembourg in March. But the campaign begins in earnest next month with a trip to Holland followed by back-to-back games against Slovakia and Georgia in October.
With that in mind, Stark believes tonight’s friendly against old rivals England in front of an anticipated crowd of at least 25,000 at Bramall Lane will provide a perfect warm-up. Stark said: “It was a fixture that was offered to us and it fitted the bill perfectly. We wanted a top nation to play going into the Holland game. We will be severely tested tomorrow night and that is what we are looking for.
“It is a fixture at under-21 level that we have not had in recent years. That probably adds to the occasion a wee bit.”
The nations have not met at under-21 level for 20 years but Stark hopes this week will prove the start of a new era of fixtures between the neighbouring rivals. He said: “Maybe we can look to do it more in the future. We would probably like to reciprocate and invite England back to our place. At under-21 level it is different groups that you are working with year in, year out so there is always a freshness there.”
England manager Roy Hodgson takes charge of the under-21 side for this match as the FA searches for a new under-21 boss following the departure of Stuart Pearce. Stark expects that to make his side’s task – already tough with several Premier League players involved – especially difficult. He said: “I think that adds to it, when the national team manager is taking the team. They will be desperate to impress him because surely it is their ambition to play for the big team. It is a great opportunity to show what they can do.
“I don’t think that makes our job any easier but it adds to the profile of the game and we are happy to take that on.”
Stark has freshened his squad with three uncapped players in St Johnstone striker Stevie May and Hearts duo Brad McKay and Jack Hamilton. May, 20, has made an eye-catching start to the season with goals against Rosenborg and Hearts.
Stark said: “The nature of an international squad is that it can change for a number of reasons. We have one or two that have not been with us before. It will be a great experience for them.”