Oli McBurnie watch: Seventh defeat in eight for striker but £20m man let down by team-mates

Whatever else Oli McBurnie may bring to the Scotland set-up, a reputation as a lucky charm is way down the list.

Oli McBurnie reacts during the 2-1 defeat to Russia at Hampden
Oli McBurnie reacts during the 2-1 defeat to Russia at Hampden

On his eighth appearance for his country, the striker experienced a seventh defeat as Scottish hopes of automatic qualification for next summer’s Euro 2020 finals were all but obliterated by Russia.

McBurnie had found himself the centre of attention in the build up to the Group I qualifier at Hampden, courtesy of some Sheffield United club TV footage in which he appeared critical of the Scotland squad environment.

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Allied to his £20 million price tag which many observers find difficult to fathom, it placed the 23-year-old under even greater scrutiny as Scotland manager Steve Clarke handed him the responsibility of leading the line.

McBurnie’s wait for his first international goal continues, although no-one can reasonably lay the blame at his door for this latest dispiriting result in Scotland’s long tale of qualifying woes. This was a collective failure by Clarke’s side who were unable to build on John McGinn’s 10th minute opener as Russia hit back to claim a fully deserved victory.

Clarke had spoken before the match of McBurnie’s physicality as a potential asset for the Scots and the Russian defence were quickly aware of his presence.

During the vibrant start from the hosts which reaped McGinn’s early breakthrough, McBurnie did his best to keep the experienced Russian central defensive pairing of Georgi Dzhikiya and Andrei Semenov fully occupied.

He carried a genuine threat at set pieces, narrowly missing out on connecting with a Callum McGregor corner from the right and then causing real anxiety in the Russian rearguard when he got on the end of Ryan Fraser’s kick from the left.

The ball deflected off the outmuscled Dzhikiya into the path of Stephen O’Donnell who struck Guilherme’s right hand post from close range.

The Russian goalkeeper looked nervy during this spell and he was truly spooked by McBurnie when Scotland went ahead. A terrific cross from Fraser saw McBurnie provide nuisance value again, prompting Guilherme to knock the ball uncertainly into the path of McGinn who drove it home from six yards.

McBurnie’s hold-up play was as good as Clarke could have hoped but unfortunately it was not always matched by the quality of ball retention from those supporting the striker from midfield.

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As a consequence, the hosts found themselves dropping ever deeper as the Russians started to impose themselves on the contest. With McBurnie becoming increasingly isolated, he could only look on in frustration when Russia equalised five minutes before half-time with a clinical strike from Artem Dzyuba which had been on the cards for some time.

The interval came as a relief for Scotland but there was to be no respite after the break. Never mind McBurnie, it would scarcely have made a difference if Denis Law in his prime was up front for the hosts, given how seldom they were now able to work the ball into their attacking third.

Pressing with intensity and a level of technique Scotland struggled to live with, Russia could sense all three points were there for the taking and it was no surprise when Yuri Zhirkov duly forced the own goal from O’Donnell which put them in front just before the hour mark.

But for some heroics from David Marshall, Russia would have out of sight long before the end of the night. The goalkeeper’s contribution allowed Scotland to hold onto hope of salvaging something and the introduction of Ryan Christie - a curious omission from the starting line-up - did increase their threat level.

The in-form Celtic man offered an improved level of support for McBurnie, playing just behind him, and managed to force Guilherme back into action with a snapshot smartly held by the ‘keeper.

Clarke had little option but to go for broke and Matt Phillips entered the fray for the closing stages, joining McBurnie up front.

To his credit, McBurnie stuck at it and some good play almost created an 85th minute equaliser for McGregor whose shot was blocked. The striker was left with that sinking feeling in a Scotland shirt yet again.