Durie to end Scottish trials

Phil Shaw in Hartford sees the key to Craig Brown's striking problems
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The Independent Online
In an age when lazy adaptations like "Platty" and "Batts" abound, Gordon Durie resembles a one-man campaign to keep the footballer's nickname alive. Cruel wits turned "Juke Box" in to "First Aid Box" because of his familiarity with the treatment table. Today, however, he could justifiably borrow one of Bill Clinton's more respectable monikers: "the Comeback Kid".

Here in Kennedy country, at a small suburban stadium in the New England town of New Britain, Durie today wins his 28th cap for Scotland in the friendly against the United States. With it comes an opportunity, as belated as it was unexpected, to establish himself as first-choice striker for next month's European Championship in England.

Durie, who will be 31 in December, last represented his country exactly two years ago in Holland. As recently as February he was out of the Rangers team for seven weeks after a fourth hernia operation, and could have been excused had he booked the family holiday to coincide with Euro 96.

Instead, circumstances have for once conspired in his favour, propelling Durie to the front of Scotland's attacking pack. The duo with which Craig Brown began the qualifying campaign, Duncan Shearer and Andy Walker, was never more than a holding operation. John McGinlay and John Robertson also faded from contention, albeit less rapidly, and Darren Jackson's chief virtue is versatility rather than virtuosity.

The focus switched to Duncan Ferguson, despite the fact that he has scored only one goal at any level for Scotland. The need for summer surgery closed off that option, forcing Brown to go into last month's friendly in Denmark with another untried, lightweight partnership comprising Kevin Gallacher and John Spencer.

In the meantime, Durie was starting to revel in the service provided by Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. A spring scoring spree, culminating in the dazzling hat-trick that brought Rangers the Scottish Cup and the double, took his season's tally to 23. That made him him the Premier Division's leading Scottish marksman, as well as winning him pounds 50 in a bet with Gazza about who would finish with more goals.

For Brown, it was like discovering he had acquired a new player, although the Scotland manager had never ruled out a recall. "I've been a Durie fan ever since I saw him score three for East Fife against Hamilton Accies when he was a boy," he said. "After he joined Hibs, I used him in tandem with Robert Fleck in a very good Under-21 side, and I followed him closely when he was at Chelsea and Tottenham.

"I also played him through the middle in my first match in charge, with Pat Nevin playing off him. But there were times when he was out of the Rangers side, or operating wide, and that made it harder to pick him."

Whoever plays alongside or off Durie, Ally McCoist's calf strain means that Brown must create another fresh partnership less than a fortnight before the finals. Aberdeen's Scott Booth, whose five goals in 10 caps he extols as "in the Gary Lineker class", arguably needs a game more than Gallacher or Spencer after an injury-plagued season. Five of the Scots' 10 substitutes are allowed to come on, so all three could be involved.

A total of 19 goals in 10 qualifying games might indicate that Scotland's striking deficiencies have been exaggerated. But only five of those came in the six fixtures with Russia, Greece and Finland, the others arriving at the expense of San Marino and the Faroe Islands.

Equally, while Durie's own record of four international goals hardly suggests that opponents should be quaking in their Qasars, his deployment in midfield during Andy Roxburgh's reign renders that statistic of equally questionable value.

Meanwhile, Durie's past, like Mr Clinton's, is never far behind. By coincidence, the defender who could mark him today - the North Carolina-born, Scottish- bred Steve Pittman - also lists East Fife among his employers, though the only time they have been on the same pitch was when Pittman was with Partick.

The more significant reunion may be yet to come. It cannot have escaped the notice of the man who bought him for Spurs, Terry Venables, that Durie appears to be peaking nicely for the meeting with Gascoigne and Co at Wembley on 15 June.