ROBBIE NEILSON today advised Hearts winger Jamie Walker to target an end-of-season Scotland call-up. International friendlies against Italy on May 29 and France on June 4 should be the forward’s aim, according to his club manager.
Walker scored his fifth goal in seven games on Saturday to earn Hearts a 1-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park – their fourth successive victory. The result created a 17-point gap between the Edinburgh club, who sit third in the Ladbrokes Premiership, and Ross County and St Johnstone in joint-fourth.
National coach Gordon Strachan named two different Scotland squads last week for forthcoming friendlies against Czech Republic and Denmark. No Hearts players were included. Walker only returned to first-team action five weeks ago after knee surgery and Neilson has implored him to push for a maiden international call at the end of the campaign.
“It’s maybe the timing of it. He’s had a good seven games but seven games doesn’t make a season,” Neilson told the Evening News. “He still has to keep working and doing it consistently. The timing of his injury and his comeback haven’t done him any favours for the international scene.
“There are friendlies at the end of May and early June. If he keeps playing like this, I think he’ll be in Gordon’s thoughts. Then it’s down to Gordon whether he wants to pick him or not. I think that should be everyone’s target and Jamie is no different.”
Hearts coaching staff spoke with Walker pre-season to emphasise the need for a great work ethic in his game. Neilson believes the message is now sinking in. “He’s been good since he came back from injury. He’s technically a very good player, he just needs to get himself fitter and keep working hard.
“We spoke to him at the start of the season and said that, if he wants to get to the top, he needs to work hard in games. There’s no doubting his ability, it’s the work rate. Every player has to do it and he’s doing it at the moment. He’s getting fitter and stronger. He’s also got competition, which is good. Sam Nicholson and Dario Zanatta can play in his position, we could put Arnaud Djoum or Don Cowie there as well. He has to perform.
“We played Djoum and Walker as number tens on Saturday to try and get them making runs in behind. In the first half, it worked really well. We had a chance after 30 seconds from an exact move we’d worked on. We didn’t finish it, though. We got the goal in the second half so it’s great to have four wins on the bounce.”