Hearts defender Craig Halkett explains fitness worry and European prospects

Craig Halkett is “desperate” to be fit for the trip to Latvia to take on RFS on Thursday after revealing just how disappointed he was to miss the big European nights against FC Zurich and Istanbul Basaksehir at Tynecastle Park.

The 27-year-old centre-back admitted he feared the worst when limping off with a hamstring problem just six minutes into the away leg of the Europa League play-off in St Gallen.

That forced him to miss the return leg against Zurich and Thursday’s opening Europa Conference League Group A tie against Basaksehir, even though he had been described as “touch and go” to make the match against the Turks. He now another five group matches to look forward to.

Halkett told the Sunday Mail: "It was extremely disappointing to get the injury after only a few minutes against FC Zurich. I was gutted as my whole career has been building towards these types of games and towards heading in the right direction.

Craig Halkett was gutted to miss Hearts´ two European games at Tynecastle Park through injury. Picture: Mark Scates / SNS

"To get to that point, and for it only to last six minutes, was so hard to take. It was hard to find any positives but at least, regardless of what happened, as a club we had already guaranteed group-stage football in Europe for this season.

“That was always the bigger picture and great to know even as I sat watching the remainder of that game and the home tie at Tynecastle. There was the comfort of knowing there would still be at least six more games in Europe.

“I was just trying to remain positive and there are now five games ahead of us. I’m just desperate to be a part of them.”

Hearts have targeted the two games against RFS to pick up points, but the Latvian side underlined their capabilities with a 1-1 draw away to Fiorentina.

Halkett told the Daily Record: “We knew from the minute the draw was made we’d be facing teams of a high level and Thursday was an example of that.

“Nobody underestimated the size of the challenge as it’s been 18 years since we’ve been involved at the group stage of a European competition. It’s about enjoying this journey. We want to put as many points on the board as possible but we also need to make sure we enjoy the experience and learn as much as we can from it.

“Thursday night will be another experience and we want to try and make it the starting point in claiming as many points as we can. Istanbul were the pot one team in our group, getting a result against them was always going to be difficult and because the game was at Tynecastle we hoped for the best.

“Everyone who was at the game saw how good they were as they more than showed their qualities. Now we are going away to Latvia to face the pot four team and we were seeded above them so these are probably the two games which we will look at as being the best opportunity for us to pick up points.“That said, we can also look at some of the results from across Europe on Thursday night and see the top seeds can struggle against those in the lowest seeded pot. Riga managed to earn a draw in Italy against Fiorentina so they’re no mugs, we know how difficult it’s going to be.”