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City star ready for 'tough game' on artificial pitch in Kazakhstan

PUBLISHED: 11:25 20 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:24 20 March 2019

Kenny McLean is back in the Scotland fold. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Kenny McLean is back in the Scotland fold. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Paul Chesterton

Norwich City midfielder Kenny McLean is ready for a 'tough game' as Scotland prepare for the artificial pitch of the Astana Arena ahead of the European Championship qualification opener in Kazakhstan.

Norwich City midfielder Kenny McLean has five Scotland caps Picture: Andrew Milligan PA Wire/PANorwich City midfielder Kenny McLean has five Scotland caps Picture: Andrew Milligan PA Wire/PA

That artificial pitch is one that Canaries keeper Tim Krul unfortunately knows all about, as it’s the stadium where he suffered a serious knee ligament injury during a 2-1 win for Holland back in October 2015, ruling him out for a year and effectively finishing his time as number one at Newcastle.

McLean will be hoping for better luck on Thursday afternoon (3pm kick-off) as he returns to the Scotland fold having shaken off a four-month absence due to surgery on ankle ligament damage to score three goals and set up another four in six games for Championship leaders City.

MORE: ‘I’m still working on fitness’ – McLean glad for international duty

Kazakhstan are 117th in the Fifa world rankings but have won two of their last four games, beating fellow minnows Moldova 1-0 in a friendly last month and Andorra 4-0 in the Uefa Nations League in October.

McLean said: “We know Kazakhstan are going to have quality – it is going to be a tough game in tough conditions. The pitch isn’t ideal but it’s one we are looking forward to.

“We only come together so often so when we do come together we need to gel quickly and really hit the ground running.

“Getting off to a good start in the qualification campaign is massive. We need to look at this as a massive step to take towards getting us into a good position.

“It’s early stages of the competition, but it’s maybe where the downfall has been in recent campaigns.”

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Alex McLeish returned as Scotland manager in February 2018, replacing Gordon Strachan, and enjoyed some progress during the November international break as his team finished their Nations League campaign with a 4-0 win in Albania and a 3-2 home win over Israel.

“Since the manager has come in there has been a progression,” the Norwich midfielder continued. “The boys have been playing better stuff than previously and we need to keep the momentum going and build on the performances.

“Looking back at the games we played — in particular the Israel game — we have looked at what we can improve on so we will look to improve on that and keep the momentum going.”

MORE: McLean on momentum and keeping his Norwich place

While the former Aberdeen favourite hasn’t featured since away friendlies against Peru and Mexico last summer, due to his ankle injury early in his City career, the 27-year-old is thrilled to have a chance to add to his five caps.

Speaking to the Scottish FA’s website, he continued: “I’m delighted to be back in the squad. I saw the games I missed and the team played really well.

“It would have been easy for the manager to keep the same squad and same team but I’ve been working hard to get back from injury and get back into the team at my club. That has been recognised, which I appreciate.

“My confidence from club form is really high but when you come away with the national team it’s a different challenge. It’s a great squad we have got here, it’s full of quality, so we are looking to do as well as we can against Kazahkstan and take home the three points.”

McLean’s Canaries team-mates Grant Hanley and Jordan Rhodes have not been called up to the latest squad, after limited game time for Daniel Farke’s promotion hopefuls in recent months.

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