STEVE BRUCE has urged Scotland manager Steve Clarke to tread carefully with Ryan Fraser during the forthcoming international break, with the Newcastle United midfielder still edging his way back towards full fitness.

Having opted to run down his contract at Bournemouth rather than participate in the early stages of ‘Project restart’ at the end of last season, Fraser went six months without playing any competitive football prior to the start of the current campaign.

He has featured in five of Newcastle’s seven matches this term, but is still to start a league game with Bruce reluctant to risk any chance of the 26-year-old suffering an injury from over-exertion.

Fraser dropped out of the international picture during his contractual stand-off with Bournemouth, but was restored to the Scotland fold last week ahead his nation’s biggest fixture for a number of years.

Scotland host Israel in a European Championships play-off semi-final on Thursday evening knowing a win will leave them just one game away from a place at next summer’s finals.

Clarke’s side will follow up their Israel showdown with a Nations League double-header against Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but while Bruce fully appreciates the importance of the next few days to Scotland as a country, he is pleading for a cautious approach when it comes to the extent of Fraser’s involvement.

“We’ve had a big conundrum with Ryan,” said the Newcastle boss. “He hadn’t played since March, he hadn’t even trained either really. It’s okay running on treadmills and running round athletic pitches, but it’s not the same.

“It was one of those difficult ones, but thankfully Ryan keeps himself in really good condition. Straight away, he gives you that little bit of a cutting edge.

“It’s a difficult one, we’re trying to find the balance of what’s right and what’s wrong. Ideally, you would need a pre-season with six weeks of intensive work and five or six friendlies. We’ve had to get them in the cup competition with him. I expect him to get better, and we hope that Scotland treat him with the respect he deserves because he hasn’t played a lot. I’m sure they will.”

Jeff Hendrick and Jamal Lewis are also involved in play-off semi-final action this week, with the former part of the Republic of Ireland squad that will take on Slovakia and the latter preparing to represent Northern Ireland against Bosnia.