Six goals in nine games, a player of the month award and his first ever senior international call up – it has been a hot few weeks for Oliver McBurnie.
McBurnie was born in Yorkshire but this photo (with younger brother Zander) suggests that his footballing allegiance to Scotland was never in doubt.
His club career started at Bradford City and he signed his first professional contract there in August 2013. McBurnie had two loan spells at Chester in early 2015 before transferring to Swansea City that summer. Further loan appearances, at Newport County and Bristol Rovers, as well as a smattering of first team Swansea appearances have followed. During the same period he has also progressed through the levels for Scotland; gaining four under 19 and ten under 21 caps.
The Swansea player was set to sign on loan for Barnsley in August 2017 but the deal fell through. He joked when he finally arrived in January 2018 that; “at least all the signing photos have already been done”. This season Barnsley have tended to play a 4-3-3 formation in which the full backs see the most of the ball. McBurnie has been used as the left sided attacker and likes to cut in; attempting 2.6 dribbles per 90 minutes with a 69% success rate and taking 3.1 shots per 90 minutes with 45% of those on target. While the number of goals per game is unsustainable the underlying shooting numbers are encouraging for a wide forward in a team one point off the relegation spots. As a comparison Aleksandar Mitrovic is also a loan forward in the same league on a hot scoring streak. He is playing for promotion chasing Fulham and takes an average of 4.4 shots every 90 minutes and is on target 47% of the time. Given the likely difference in the quality and quantity of opportunities to shoot the fact that McBurnie gets a similar percentage on target could be viewed as a positive.
His goal scoring form is timely for Scotland given that Leigh Griffiths is injured and there are a lack of other quality options. Alex McLeish has justifiably omitted Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher from his first squad in his second spell as national team manager. Martin (17 caps) joined Reading on loan on the same day McBurnie joined Barnsley but has only scored once and of the 2.1 shots he has taken per 90 minutes only 14% are on target. Fletcher (31 caps) is now 30 years old and is only getting 0.5 shots on target per 90 minutes for Sheffield Wednesday this season. Included, as forwards, with McBurnie for the friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary are Matt Phillips and Jason Cummings. Phillips’ (8 caps) output of just 0.1 goals per 90 minutes at club level coupled with his poor performance up front for Scotland against The Netherlands in last November’s friendly suggest he should not lead the line again. Cummings (1 cap) has generally played well since joining Rangers on loan in January and offers a level of mobility similar to Griffiths. However, he has only started four matches for the club and has only scored against the last placed team in the SPFL Premiership and lower league opposition in cup competition.
Hopefully short socked, long legged McBurnie has a successful debut for Scotland this week and is able to maintain his strong performances for Barnsley before developing into a first team player at Swansea and remaining a regular pick for Scotland in the years ahead.