Craig Halkett has vital advice for Hearts after a long-awaited return at Aberdeen
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Craig Halkett's return to competitive football is an indisputable positive for Hearts, a fact almost lost in the Pittodrie debrief. Anger and frustration at the result allied to head coach Steven Naismith's post-match criticism took a lot of attention away from the influential central defender's first appearance in almost a year.
Losing to Aberdeen in the 92nd-minute shattered the Tynecastle side and their supporters. Hearts led 1-0 at half-time through Lawrence Shankland's header and looked comfortable at that stage. Bojan Miovski equalised before Leighton Clarkson's late winner punished the visitors for constantly retreating and trying to see the game out.
Halkett replaced Toby Sibbick on 71 minutes after an arduous recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament rupture suffered at Tannadice on 24 December last year. His presence can only help the club's aspirations to finish third in the Premiership. They arrived at Pittodrie in that position but defeat, combined with other results over the weekend, dropped them to sixth.
"It was a nice feeling," said Halkett in reference to getting back on the pitch. "It has been a long road since last Christmas Eve so it has been a lot of hard work, but thankfully that’s me past that stage now and I’m fit and ready to play."
He could not have picked a more awkward reintroduction. The manner of the 2-1 loss prompted Naismith to comment that Hearts were bullied and needed to show more character after leading at the interval.
"It obviously isn’t what we want to hear, but I think it is important that the manager is honest and he tells you what he thinks," said Halkett. "I think everyone can take it on the chin. We were in a winning position but then gave two goals away and ultimately lost the match.
"Whether we were bullied physically, mentally – whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough. As players we need to take it on the chin and work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again."
Halkett insisted he didn't feel insulted or hurt by the manager's viewpoint. "Neither, to be honest. We are all grown men and if the manager thinks an individual or the collective hasn’t been good enough and that’s the way he feels, then you have to take that on the chin," he advised. "Ultimately we got beat in the game, so somewhere along the line we have not been good enough.
"It is one of those ones where you have got to use or bring something from within to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He’s not digging out anyone individually or picking anyone out, it’s just as a collective. I think we need to take that on the chin.
"It’s a word [bullying] that is used quite a lot to be honest. It just kind of generalises a lot of things that can happen in a game, whether it is physically or the way you are playing. I think, as long as the boys take it the right way and use it to get better, then it can only be a good thing."