Sheffield United: Why John Fleck can lead Scotland into a bright new era

When Scotland touched down in Astana yesterday, ahead of tomorrow’s 2020 European Championship qualifier against Kazakhstan, they found themselves in the middle of a political storm.

Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 6:26 pm

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the oil-rich state's president since the collapse of the Soviet Union, had just announced he was stepping down after nearly 30 years in power.

John Fleck hopes his international manager Alex McLeish is swept along by the prevailing mood and instigates another changing of the guard.

Despite emerging as a driving force behind Sheffield United's resurgence under Chris Wilder, the midfielder is still waiting to earn his first senior cap after being controversially overlooked by McLeish's predecessor Gordon Strachan.

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But with a flurry of new call-ups suggesting the 60-year-old is about to ditch the predictable selections which have contributed to Scotland's demise as a footballing power, Fleck could be set to enjoy a long overdue opportunity to impress on the international stage.

Swansea City centre-forward Oliver McBurnie, who has also travelled with McLeish's squad, senses Scotland's hierarchy are considering unveiling a new look side for their opening Group I fixture.

"It's always been the message from this gaffer, the ones that are doing it for their clubs are going to get a chance," he said. "That's what you have got to keep doing, play as much as you can and do as well as you can for your club and hopefully it comes out into your international form.

"It's good from the gaffer that if you are doing well for your club you are going to get noticed, it's not just going to be the same faces no matter what."

Fleck arguably suffered from Strachan's conservatism more than most, although it also seems bizarre that Dylan McGeouch, Lewis Stevenson and Chris Cadden were all granted chance to earn their Scotland spurs during his time out in the cold.

Aged 27, Fleck was a member of the United side which lifted the League One title during Wilder's first campaign at the helm and, after seamlessly acclimatising to life in the Championship, has featured 37 times in the Championship this term. The most recent of those appearances came at Leeds last weekend, as a 1-0 win saw United climb to second in the table with eight matches remaining.

Former United centre-forward Marc McNulty, now on loan at Hibernian, has also made the journey to the Kazakh capital after scoring seven times in nine outings for the Edinburgh club.

Paul Heckingbottom, previously of Barnsley and now manager at Easter Road, said: "I’d love McNulty to get Scotland game time. I'd love him to get a cap. We’re pleased we’ve got him right now. He’s a goal scorer and so you want to keep him."

With Kazakhstan ranked 117th in the world, it seems likely that Fleck and McNulty will be awarded their debuts against either Michal Bilek's side or when Scotland face San Marino on Sunday.

Andy Robertson will miss tomorrow's match after undergoing dental surgery but is set to report for duty ahead of the trip to Serravalle.