ROBBIE NEILSON believes Hearts defender Callum Paterson can succeed Alan Hutton and become Scotland’s regular right-back.
The 21-year-old has been named in the national squad for forthcoming friendlies with Italy and France, and Neilson feels he has the potential to cement a long-term international future.
Hutton, now 31, has been Scotland’s first-choice right-back for the last nine years. Paterson is pushing through from the Under-21 squad and has been a key player at Tynecastle since his debut in 2012.
Neilson spoke to national coach Gordon Strachan and said he would welcome a call-up for Paterson despite Hearts’ early start to next season. The player will only get ten days’ break as Scotland’s matches are on May 29 and June 4. His head coach is adamant he deserves the opportunity to represent his country.
“Alan Hutton is a good player, he’s played in the English Premier League and moved for big money. Alan is coming to the end of his career and it’s important the next group of guys are ready to go,” said Neilson. “I think Callum definitely has the potential to be there. I’m not saying he’s there yet but he has the potential to get to that level.
“Gordon spoke to me the other day and asked my thoughts on it. Our European games are early but I think it’s great for Callum to go and play for Scotland. It’s an experience to play for your country which might never happen again. You just never know.
“When you grow up, that’s what you want to do. You want to score in a cup final and play for Scotland. Hopefully Callum will get the opportunity in these two big games. I’d never stand in anyone’s way if there’s international football coming up.”
Paterson helped Hearts keep a clean sheet at Pittodrie last night as Abiola Dauda’s goal secured a 1-0 win in their penultimate league game of the season. Neilson was delighted with his back four but especially 22-year-old goalkeeper Jack Hamilton.
“I thought Jack was different class. He commanded his back four, came out and claimed things and took the pressure off the back four in the last ten minutes. He was out punching and catching things and it made a big difference for us.
“I’m pleased with the result, although the performance wasn’t great. The two teams negated each other and pressed each other. We had a big fanbase there and they’ll be happy with a win.
“We’ve played Aberdeen five times this season and won three, which is great. We need to carry it through to next season and try to get closer to them. They’re a good team.”
Neilson urged Hearts to finish their season with another victory against St Johnstone on Sunday. “Last time we played St Johnstone they turned us over and beat us 3-0, so we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said. “The win last night takes us to 64 points, which is our best in the last ten years so that’s great. We want to go three points more again.”
Hearts have held talks with former Scotland goalkeeper Matt Gilks about a possible move to Tynecastle for next season. Discussions remain ongoing with both parties.