Hearts players were warned by manager Gary Locke to protect themselves as much as possible on international duty. A total of eight players are with the Scotland Under-21s and Under-19s sides.
Locke is fearful of injuries depleting his already skeletal squad. Callum Paterson, Kevin McHattie, Jason Holt, Jamie Walker and Jack Hamilton were named in Billy Stark’s Under-21 group, while Jordan McGhee, Sam Nicholson and Adam King were included in the Under-19s. McGhee has subsequently been promoted to the Under-21s, meaning six Hearts players travelled to Holland for tonight’s European Under-21 Championship qualifier.
When asked what Locke’s final words were before they left Riccarton, McHattie replied: “Just be careful. Obviously we’ve got to watch ourselves – we’ve got six away, and two in the under-19s. Hearts are probably training with about ten players this week. We’ve just got to be careful, but, if there’s a tackle to be won, you’ve got to go and win it. If you get injured it’s bad luck.”
The youngsters will be given a chance to recuperate when they return to Edinburgh on Friday, with their next assignment not until Saturday week when Celtic visit Tynecastle. “We’re getting the weekend off,” said McHattie. “It’ll be a good break to spend time with families and stuff like that, and regain strength.
“I had a break last week with being suspended [against Inverness]. That came in good timing for this, but obviously it was disappointing to get suspended. It’s great for all the young boys at Hearts getting chance after chance. The younger boys coming through are doing fantastic, like Jordan McGhee in this squad, and Sam Nicholson who’s in the under-19s. He’s doing brilliant.”
It would be understandable if McHattie stepped out at the Stadion De Goffert in Nijmegen tonight feeling some trepidation. He, along with the entire Scotland Under-21 team, were given a lesson never to forget in their last outing. The scars of the 6-0 friendly defeat by England last month are still visible on some of the group.
Despite struggling to cope as Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey and Nathan Redmond ran amok, McHattie stressed he actually improved because of the experience in Sheffield that night. “We’ve just got to keep our heads high and work hard. That’s all we can do. They were different class – just physically unbelievable.
“Some things that went wrong you can sort, but their technical ability was so good. Their experience is just different class. You’ve just got to learn from your mistakes. That’s all I do. Just got to focus and learn from there. We watched some clips of the England match – the mistakes. And we talked about getting behind the ball, and pressing where we should press. But we’ve not watched the whole game.”
The Netherlands will be no less difficult. “Aye, definitely, they’re a good team,” acknowledged the left-back. “But we did well in the last qualifier, beating Luxembourg 3-0, and it was good to get a result on the night. Obviously the last game against England was a bit disappointing, so we’ve got a lot of making up to do.”
Scotland Under-21s beat their Dutch counterparts 2-1 at tonight’s venue less than two years ago, although McHattie was not involved. “The manager was speaking about that yesterday. It definitely gives us hope: it shows Scotland have got the quality in the team, and we’ve just got to work hard.
“Everyone’s got to be spot-on in this qualifier. The Dutch are a great team. They pass the ball well, get forward and are good at the back, so we’ve got to try and break them down. We’ve won one out of one so far [in this qualifying group]. I would take a point over there. They’ve got a great team, so we’ll see what we can do.”