Burley's 'musketeers' backed to match Dutch

Three key midfielders to play together for first time in manager's 14-month reign
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The Independent Football

George Burley's squad members are falling like flies and he's gone out on a limb to drop his No 1 goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, for a deputy, Allan McGregor, who is playing more regular club football. But the Scotland manager is at least relishing one element of facing the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday: for the first time in 14 months in charge, he will be able to field simultaneously all three of his "midfield musketeers" – Celtic's Scott Brown, Manchester United's Darren Fletcher and Rangers' Barry Ferguson. At least one has been absent for each of Burley's seven games so far.

Burley says midfield will be important against the Dutch because it is the area they dominate, "and that's why we've got to be strong and competitive". Of his key trio, he said: "They've all got energy, they're all comfortable on the ball, they can all get forward, and you can rotate them as well, which adds a string to the bow.

"Brown is very tenacious. Barry Ferguson gets on the ball and makes things happen. And Darren Fletcher is a great box-to-box player, who's shown for Manchester United that he can play at the very top level.

"Brown might be holding but he might pop up in the box and score a goal as well. If you watched the Norway game, Scotty Brown was the best player on the park and he can play in a number of positions. When you look at Ferguson, Fletcher, they can slip in and rotate as well. Those three are versatile."

Burley has taken the tough decision to drop Gordon because he is not playing regularly for Sunderland. He said Gordon, aged 26 and worth £9m, "has never put a foot wrong with Scotland" but McGregor, 27, is first choice at his club.

"It was a straightforward decision," Burley said. "Craig has been magnificent since I've known him, at Hearts and with Scotland, but Allan has come in, he did well against Argentina [in a November friendly], he's got experience now in European football, helping Rangers last season to the Uefa Cup final. This season he's played at international level. Because Craig hasn't played, it's going to be Allan."

Burley said he had made the announcement early in the week because "it could have become an unnecessary distraction if I hadn't". He added: "There's been so much speculation, who's going to play, the pros and cons. I think it was fairer for the two of them. Craig took it great. Now Allan can be focused without people speculating all the time."

Burley confirmed that Tottenham's right-back, Alan Hutton, will not play at the weekend but could come into contention for Wednesday's home qualifier with Iceland. Hutton has been out of first-team action since November with a foot problem, but returned to Spurs' reserve team at West Bromwich on Monday. "We're going to look at him this week," Burley said. "The fitness coach will be doing extra work with him... There's no doubt that a fit, motivated Alan Hutton would get into most international sides."

Burley's depleted squad was further reduced yesterday when Celtic's Paul Hartley pulled out with a hamstring strain. The defenders David Weir and Kirk Broadfoot plus midfielder Kris Commons have all gone home injured since Monday, while injuries prevented James McFadden, Shaun Maloney, Barry Robson, Kevin Thomson, Lee Miller and Garry O'Connor from being called up in the first place.

Doubts remain over the fitness of centre-half Stephen McManus, who is responding well to treatment for ankle ligament damage but will not be risked "unless he is 100 per cent right".

Burley's midfield musketeers

Darren Fletcher (Man Utd) Age 25, 40 caps

Has the flexibility and stamina to play as enforcer, creator or as a hybrid fulcrum. That combination has kept him at United.

Scott Brown (Celtic) Age 24, 14 caps

A ball retriever rather than a ball winner, he has an aggressive, high-energy game which is at its best making chances from apparently lost causes.

Barry Ferguson (Rangers) Age 31, 44 caps

Age and injuries inevitably take their toll, but at his best has an awareness, touch and calm authority to dictate from the heart of a team.

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