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Return of a fast action hero

I PLAYED alongside Chris Burke for a year and a bit at Rangers so I was delighted last week when he took just 45 minutes to become my man of the match on his Scotland recall against Estonia.

Chris Burke's performance was a major plus point for Scotland against Estonia Photograph: SNS
Chris Burke's performance was a major plus point for Scotland against Estonia Photograph: SNS

He was always quick and had natural ability, he just needed a bit more experience and he has got that now.

He is touching 30 and has made his way back in to the international set-up the hard way, having gone from two goals from his first two caps to a seven-year absence from the national team, but he looked a real find the other night. It wasn't until later in my career that I became a Scotland regular and maybe the same can happen to Burke.

He certainly showed his full repertoire at Pittodrie on Wednesday night. There was pace, good possession play, the awareness to look about and think "well if there are two or three men around me then there must be a man spare", but most of all he did what wingers are paid to do – pinging some fantastic crosses into the box.

Although he comes across as a quiet lad, I wouldn't say he was timid. As a teenager he featured in the Blue Heaven documentary about young Rangers players who were tipped to make the grade, and there was always something about him on the park, the way he always demanded the ball and had confid-ence in his ability. He would give you a wee bit of patter, not just sit in the corner and say nothing.

He is clearly bang in form, judging by the way Alex McLeish wanted him for Nottingham Forest, then left the club partly because his board didn't back him enough to get players like Burke.

Even more ironic then that it was Burke who should score the two goals for Birmingham which ultimately saw his old gaffer leave the East Midlands club.

Burke was a huge plus from Wednesday night, but there others who did their chances no harm at the outset of the Gordon Strachan era. Steven Fletcher looked sharp up front, Shaun Maloney did well in behind and Robert Snodgrass came on in the second half and did really well.

The manager got to look at two different formations (4-4-1-1 and 4-4-2), but the biggest bonus was we kept a clean sheet. OK, we weren't up against great opposition, but I feel it really would have been shattering to our confidence if we had lost a goal against Estonia.

I picked out Snodgrass, but we had nine outfield players on the bench who play in the English Premier League. I have always said we underachieved with the players we had and anybody who tells me that group aren't decent are kidding themselves on.

I HAVE always thought football is a clean sport in Scotland, but the news last week that Europol had identified more than 380 episodes of match- fixing, one of which happened in a Champions League game in the UK allegedly involving Liverpool, is a warning shot for the game.

I hate to go into national stereo-types, but usually these scandals tend to take place in Eastern European countries or places such as Italy so it is worrying.

I am not stupid enough to say it could never happen here. But whether they are on £500, £5000, £10,000 or £20,000, Scottish footballers have too much to lose.

I am quite proud of this country's sporting integrity; we can say with some confidence that matches are not rigged. I have played at every level in this country and no-one has ever approached me to take a bribe; nor have I ever heard anything about that in any game I have been associated with. But when you start seeing it spreading into the UK maybe we are not so safe after all.

FOOTBALL is a results-based business, but performances matter too. Ally McCoist can say all he can do is win the league, he wasn't expected to win the cups, but for me he must demand better performances from his players.

Of course Rangers are going to win the Irn-Bru Third Division, but they should be taking that league by storm and the way they went out of the two domestic cups with a whimper to Inverness and Dundee United will have hurt him. He will know he is under pressure.

When are Rangers going to raise their standards and wipe the floor with these teams? They are winning the league, but at no time this season have I thought "wow, there is a real performance, that is the way to handle Third Division teams".

The Rangers fans are waiting for that, but they are just not getting it. People might argue that with such a big lead they have taken their foot off the pedal, but I would go the other way and say that with such a big lead they should be playing without pressure, going out and expressing themselves.

Some of the players just aren't good enough. So what if they don't measure up to the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup, Arthur Numan and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst?

They should still be bulldozing these sides. I don't think they have set a standard all season. I bet if you ask Rangers fans if they are happy with their team's performances, 90 to 95% would say no.

AND finally ... I said previously that Celtic have a fantastic opportunity against Juventus and I haven't altered my opinion. The Italians have had a few questionable results and you could never write off a Celtic team who beat Barcelona at home and almost got a result in the Camp Nou.

Clearly every team in the last 16 are a quality side, but I think they are the third easiest draw Celtic could have got and Neil Lennon's side can go into this with a load of confidence.

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