Lawrence Shankland could start says Scotland boss Steve Clarke

Lawrence Shankland scored a hat-trick in Dundee United's 6-0 win over Morton, taking his tally to 15 in just 12 games this season so far. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Lawrence Shankland scored a hat-trick in Dundee United's 6-0 win over Morton, taking his tally to 15 in just 12 games this season so far. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
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Steve Clarke has no qualms about starting Lawrence Shankland against Russia next week providing he can demonstrate he is unfazed training with his new international team-mates.

The Scotland manager was speaking after including the in-form Dundee United striker in his squad for the forthcoming Euro 2020 qualifying double header against Russia and San Marino.

The latter fixture might be the more obvious game in which to blood the first Scottish lower tier player to receive an international call up since John McGinn.

However, Clarke stressed Shankland has it within his power to push for a starting place at the Luzhniki stadium a week tomorrow.

McGinn made his international debut in a friendly against Denmark in 2016 with his then club Hibs still in the Championship.

Now starring for Aston Villa in the English Premier League, he played a further two times while in the Scottish second tier, the last time coming against Canada at Easter Road in another friendly in 2017.

But it is a significant challenge to expect a player to start scoring at international level having previously only done so in lower league football in Scotland.

Shankland has certainly proved he is good enough at that level after scoring 15 times in his first 12 games with Dundee United, including a hat-trick in Saturday’s 6-0 win over Morton. He scored 63 times for Ayr United in the previous two seasons.

Clarke explained that Shankland had been in his thoughts since after the last double header, when defeats by Russia and Belgium effectively ended Scotland’s chances of securing automatic qualification for Euro 2020.

“He’s been in my mind since the last camp,” said Clarke. “After the two defeats, two sore defeats, everyone goes back to their club and their footballing life and I have to sit and stew on it for two or three weeks. I did a lot of thinking about it and Lawrence was someone I thought scores goals and has never really been tested at the highest level, so let’s see.”

Clarke has not watched the striker live but has studied him on television.

“He gets between the goals, he gets in the six-yard box, he scores goals, headers, left foot, right foot, he is a good finisher,” added Clarke. “He is actually a good footballer.

“We have to see if he can link the play at a higher level, if he can step up to international football.

“It is going to be a big question for us, it is going to be a big question for everybody.

“But, like I said before, let’s have a look I like the way he gets into goalscoring positions. His movement in the box is clever.

“If we want to gauge him at a better level we have to bring him into the squad and compare him with our defenders and compare him to other strikers who are named in the squad. I think it’s a win, win for everybody.”

Pressed on the 24-year-old player’s chances of starting against Russia, he said: “If he deserves to start, he’ll start the game.”

Shankland has perhaps benefited from Steven Fletcher’s continued absence, as well as that of Matt Phillips, who was a late call-off after being ruled out for ten days with an injury picked up while helping West Bromwich Albion beat Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.

Fletcher is the other in-form Scottish striker having struck five times in his last nine appearances for Sheffield Wednesday. But the 32-year-old striker has apparently ruled himself out of Scotland contention for the time being.

“It is a difficult one with Steven,” explained Clarke. “Obviously he is in the last year of his contract and he has got some issues with a part of his body that he has to maintain and look after. At this moment in time he’s not available for selection.”