Craig Halkett explains why he did not talk to other clubs before signing new Hearts deal

You might say Craig Halkett is only now realising the full benefit of joining Hearts. It has taken two and a half years to reach this point.

The possibility of European football is increasing with the club challenging at the Premiership’s top end, Halkett recently signed an extended contract, plus a potential Scottish Cup run is now underway. This is what the player envisioned when leaving Livingston for Tynecastle Park in summer 2019.

He is settled in the middle of a three-man defence, the role he performed with distinction as captain in West Lothian. He is playing arguably the best football of his career in a prospering and exuberant team.

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“You could definitely say that. Along with me the team is in a really good place. We’re all working hard towards the same goal. That’s benefiting everyone in the team, not just me,” explained the 26-year-old.

Craig Halkett recently signed a new Hearts contract.

Even before agreeing terms for that new contract, Halkett said he wasn’t tempted to look elsewhere or enter into conversations with other clubs. “It was all about Hearts, if I’m honest,” he stressed.

“The contract talks began at the start of December but it was such a busy period with games that it was felt it was best just to put it on the backburner and just concentrate on my football, which is what we did.

“Then came the winter break so that was a good time to sit down and talk through everything to try to get it sorted. Thankfully we did it pretty quickly – but it was always going to be Hearts for myself.

“When I signed for Hearts I always knew I was coming to a club that would always be pushing for the top end of the table, European spots and cup finals. The first 18 months didn’t really work out that way but the last six months have been really good. There are a lot of good things to be looking forward to now.”

Not least Celtic’s visit to Gorgie on Wednesday evening. “The break came at a good time for us, coming off a good couple of results. The boys got a few days off, got refreshed and came back really looking forward to the second part of the season.

“We've come back with another two wins and progressed in the Scottish Cup, so morale is really high and now we're looking forward to Wednesday night. We managed to get the better of Celtic in the first game of the season and I think since that game we've had another two fixtures that have both been really close.

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“I think it will be similar this time. Celtic are in a rich vein of form at the moment, but so are we and I don't think we have anything to fear.

“At Hearts, you want to believe and have confidence that you can compete with every team in the league and pick up points. We’re not a team that will sit back and play for a draw or maybe sneak a win. We believe we have enough quality to try to win these games and play the best we can.”

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New deals for Halkett, fellow defenders Stephen Kingsley and Michael Smith, plus captain Craig Gordon, tightens the spine of the team. The only disappointment is John Souttar’s decision to sign a pre-contract with Rangers.

“It was huge. For the last five, six, seven months we've had a settled back three or five, and Craig as well. So to get myself, Stephen and Michael all signed up in a short period has been massive.

“Don't get me wrong, John is a sore one to lose. He has been a massive part of that defence and is a great character on and off the field. I'll be gutted when he does leave but having the other defenders signed up is a massive boost.”

It remains to be seen whether Souttar is involved against Celtic having been omitted from Saturday’s Scottish Cup win at Auchinleck Talbot after a transfer bid from Rangers. Halkett was in a similar situation in spring 2019 after signing a pre-contract with Hearts. His remaining time at Livingston passed relatively quietly.

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“I signed mine in March, so there wasn't the scenario where it was January and there was the possibility of leaving at the time. For me, and it will be the same for John, when you are still at the club you get the head down and you work hard.

“You are contracted to that club at that time so you just keep doing what you've been doing and whatever will happen, will happen. For me, it was pretty easy to get on with.”

Some fans jeered Souttar last week against St Johnstone but Halkett insisted that the Scotland internationalist would never give less than 100 per cent. “John is a strong character. He's a big boy and can look after himself.

“When he signed the pre-contract it was maybe not expected, but there was always going to be some sort of reaction. To be fair to John, I think he handled it really well and put in a really good, professional performance. After the game, the boys were just really happy that we won the game and nothing was said about it.

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“The changing room here is really good, we all get on and have a good laugh. I don’t think anyone would take too kindly to someone if they thought they were downing tools and weren’t going to try. That’s not the case at all.

“John’s been working hard and he’s a top professional. He comes in every morning, works hard and trains really well. As long as he keeps doing that going forward everything will be great.”

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