Football - Stark: England are the perfect test

Scotland Under-21 manager Billy Stark feels England are the perfect opponents as he steps up preparations for his side's upcoming European qualifiers.

PA Sport
Football - Stark: England are the perfect test
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Billy Stark wants more England-Scotland fixtures to take place in the future

The Scots made a winning start to their bid to reach the next UEFA Under-21 Championship with a comfortable defeat of Luxembourg in March. But the campaign begins in earnest next month with a trip to Holland followed by back-to-back games against Slovakia and Georgia in October.

With that in mind, Stark believes this week's friendly against old rivals England in front of an anticipated crowd of at least 25,000 at Bramall Lane will provide a perfect warm-up.

Stark said: "It was a fixture that was offered to us and it fitted the bill perfectly. We wanted a top nation to play going into the Holland game. We will be severely tested tomorrow night and that is what we are looking for.

"It is a fixture at Under-21 level that we have not had in recent years. That probably adds to the occasion a wee bit.

"From all reports tickets have sold really well so it looks as though we are going to get a good crowd and a healthy atmosphere. It is a great fixture for us and one we are really looking forward to."

The match has been arranged as part of the Football Association's 150th anniversary celebrations and will precede a clash between the countries' senior teams at Wembley the following night. The nations have not met at Under-21 level for 20 years and not in a full international since 1999.

Stark hopes this week will prove the start of a new era of fixtures between the neighbouring rivals. Even if it proves logistically tough at senior level, he would certainly like to see more Under-21 meetings.

He said: "There are outside influences that are maybe a wee bit nervous about this type of fixture but hopefully tomorrow and Wednesday everyone will behave themselves and we get two really good fixtures.

"Then maybe we can look to do it more in the future. We would probably like to reciprocate and invite England back to our place. At Under-21 level it is different groups that you are working with year in, year out so there is always a freshness there."

England manager Roy Hodgson has stepped in to take charge of the Under-21 side for this match as the FA searches for a new Under-21 boss following the departure of Stuart Pearce.

Stark expects that to make his side's task - already tough with several Premier League players involved - especially difficult.

He said: "I think that adds to it, when the national team manager is taking the team. They will be desperate to impress the manager because surely it is their ambition to play for the big team. It is a great opportunity to show what they can do.

"I don't think that makes our job any easier but it adds to the profile of the game and we are happy to take that on."

Stark has freshened his squad up with the addition of three uncapped players in St Johnstone striker Stevie May and Hearts duo Brad Mackay and Jack Hamilton.

May, 20, has made an eye-catching start to the season north of the border with goals against Rosenborg and Hearts for the Saints.

Stark said: "The nature of an international squad is that it can change for a number of reasons. We have one or two that have not been with us before. It will be a great experience for them.

"England will rightly be regarded as favourites but I would say to our lads, no matter what the level of opposition you should always go into a game with a positive attitude.

"This team has performed well in friendly games and given us optimism for the upcoming qualifying campaign. This is the last friendly fixture and it is a big one for us, with added significance because it is England."

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