Hearts defender Callum Paterson is set to be named in the Scotland squad today for upcoming friendlies against Italy and France.
National coach Gordon Strachan will call up the 21-year-old for matches on May 29 in Malta and June 4 in Metz respectively.
Paterson would have made his full Scotland debut in March but a torn shoulder ligament sustained on club duty denied him a first cap. An Under-21 regular for the last three years, he was previously called up by Strachan in November 2014 and was an unused substitute in the friendly against England.
Scotland coaching staff are keen to nurture younger players within the national team before World Cup qualifiers start in September. With Alan Hutton and Steven Whittaker both over 30, there is an opportunity for an emerging right-back to cement a place.
The call-up means Paterson will have just ten days’ break this summer. Hearts’ season ends this Sunday with their final league game against St Johnstone. The defender will then rest before joining up with the Scotland squad.
After the France game on June 4, he will have only a short respite before Hearts report for pre-season training on June 15.
Meanwhile, the Edinburgh club head to Pittodrie on league business tonight and plan to field several promising youngsters to give them some much-needed first-team experience.
Players like Dario Zanatta, Liam Smith and Jack Hamilton are expected to feature at some point against Aberdeen. There may even be a senior debut for 18-year-old winger Lewis Moore, who is in the squad after impressing at under-20 level this season.
Defenders Igor Rossi and Blazej Augustyn are out with groin and back injuries respectively. Head coach Robbie Neilson must make a late decision on the fitness of Jamie Walker, who is struggling with a knee complaint.
Neilson explained that he is keen to use the last two league fixtures to give young players experience of top-team football. “Liam Smith, Jack Hamilton, Dario Zanatta are all in contention. Lewis Moore is in the squad, so he might make the bench as we’ll try to get him some game time,” confirmed Neilson.
“Angus Beith would’ve been involved but, because he’s been on loan [at Stenhousemuir], we couldn’t re-register him.
“There are a lot of good young players here and these next two games are an opportunity for some of them to go and show what they can do.
“Zanatta got more game time on Saturday against Ross Couny and did well. He’s one we have a lot of hope for.
“Igor is out, Blazej has a problem with his back and we’ll make a decision on Walker. He had a problem with his knee at the start of the season and it flared up again a month ago. He continued playing but we’ve rested him a bit. It’s not related to the operation. It’s a problem he’s had for a while and it flares up every now and again. It’s an opportunity for some of the younger boys to get game time, so we’ll look at that.”
Those involved now are likely to be needed again next season if Hearts manage a sustained run in the Europa League.
“If we do well in Europe, we’ll have games Thursday-Sunday each week next season,” continued Neilson. “It will be important to have a bigger squad.
“The problem with a bigger squad is it costs more money. I would rather have a smaller squad with more quality, so it means the younger players are brought in. They have to be ready to play when needed.
“The likes of Zanatta, Liam Smith, Beith and younger ones like Moore, Callumn Morrison and Daniel Baur are guys we are going to try and push a bit more.”
Moore’s inclusion is reward for a strong season in the Hearts development squad. “He has done really well in the under-20s recently,” explained Neilson. “He’s come through from the academy and into the first-team squad for these couple of matches. He might not get game time but it’s about giving him that experience of being away with the squad.”