Hearts form will be key to Callum Paterson caps – Neilson

Callum Paterson challenges Maltas Joseph Zerafa as Scotland kicked off their World Cup bid with a 5-1 victory. Picture: PA

Callum Paterson challenges Maltas Joseph Zerafa as Scotland kicked off their World Cup bid with a 5-1 victory. Picture: PA

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ROBBIE NEILSON today challenged Callum Paterson to become Scotland’s first-choice right-back by maintaining top form for Hearts.

The 21-year-old is due back at Riccarton for training this morning after making his competitive international debut in Sunday’s 5-1 World Cup qualifying win in Malta.

Paterson was chosen ahead of Aston Villa’s Alan Hutton for the first fixture of the 2018 qualifying campaign and delivered a composed performance. It was only his second full cap but he already seems to be ahead of Hutton in the mind of national coach Gordon Strachan.

Neilson wants the defender to ensure he stays there, and insists the only way to do so is to hit the heights at club level. Hearts rejected three bids for Paterson from Wigan Athletic before the transfer window closed. Neilson feels the player can now settle down and concentrate solely on playing for the Edinburgh club.

“I thought Callum did well on Sunday. He got a couple of good deliveries going forward so I was pleased for him,” Neilson said. “It’s always good to be involved in a team that wins. That will be great for his confidence.

“He just needs to keep working hard and keep himself in the squad. The hardest bit is staying in there and staying in the team. He’ll want to keep going now and his performances and form at Hearts will dictate that.

“It’s important he focuses on that and tries to get himself into the next squad. Then he can cement a place in the senior team for Scotland. I think he can definitely do it.

“The transfer window is closed so he can focus on his football now. That will help him. The window can be unsettling for everyone. That last week, as it comes to a close, is a strange period because you just never know what’s going to happen.

“It’s a period of instability. Now that’s over, we can all concentrate on playing the games and getting on with the season.”

Tynecastle colleagues Tony Watt and Jack Hamilton are also due to report to Riccarton today. Hamilton was an unused substitute for Scotland, whilst Watt didn’t make the matchday squad.

Arnaud Djoum is still in Africa with Cameroon, for whom he made his full international debut on Saturday in a 2-0 win against Gambia. Sam Nicholson, John Souttar and Liam Smith are in Ukraine with Scotland Under-21s.

“It’s good to see Djoum and Paterson involved at full international level,” said Neilson. “Jack and Tony were with Scotland as well. Rherras was on the bench for Morocco and didn’t get on, but even that is good experience for him.

“They’ve all come through without any injuries, which is really important for us. Our Scotland Under-21 boys have a game tonight so hopefully they get through that without any problems. Then we can get them back in and get ready for Hamilton on Saturday.”

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