Hearts have 'no concerns' over Steven Naismith going away with Scotland
Talks between the club and national coach Steve Clarke allayed any fears
Hearts have welcomed Steven Naismith’s Scotland call-up after talks between their interim manager Austin MacPhee and national coach Steve Clarke.
Naismith was enlisted for international duty last week despite managing just 37 minutes of football in two months due to a hamstring injury. He added another 90 to that total and scored the opening goal as Hearts beat St Mirren 5-2 on Saturday.
He is now in contention to start at least one of Scotland’s upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Cyprus and Kazakhstan. MacPhee explained why he is content with the forward’s rapid return to international level after a troublesome injury.
“I’ve got no concerns about Steven going away with Scotland. I spoke to Steve Clarke last Monday and I think it’s a good thing for us that he’s away with Scotland and he’s playing.
“Steve and I spoke about football and about the game [24 hours earlier] against Rangers and how he understood what we were trying to do. It was refreshing.
“Then we spoke about Steven. I explained that Steven’s load was 4900 metres and 425 metres of high intensity distance. The last thing that we need Steven to do is not play another game [during the international break].
“We need to get Steven back to where he was, scoring all the goals for Hearts. Scotland can help with that because he needs games of football, so I think it’s a good thing he’s going away.”
Naismith admitted being slightly surprised at his quick recall and the chance to finally win a 50th Scotland cap. He is currently on 49 and doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, for injuries have stopped him reaching 50 for the last year.
“We will wait and see if it happens. It has been an emotional rollercoaster but I am now in a good place and I just need to work hard,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be in the squad before I spoke to the manager. We had a good chat and he knows where I am at and I know what he expects.
“There is no beating around the bush, we are in a situation where we don’t have loads of competition in the forward areas. I think that has worked in my favour over the last year and a half, and now I have to capitalise on it.”
Scotland can’t qualify from their group but have a precious chance to reach Euro 2020 with a play-off place secured next March. “The older guys, more than the younger ones, realise this is an opportunity we have never had before. We have had the normal qualification and the play-offs but now this is the far easiest chance we have of every getting to a Euros,” said Naismith. “The short-term goal is to get back in the squad and to do enough to show the manager I should be in the squad for March - then hopefully help the team to the Euros in the summer.”
The talisman, meanwhile, hopes Hearts’ breathless victory over St Mirren acts as a springboard for the remainder of their campaign.
He said: “This is just the first hurdle. It is a home game, and at the start of the season, if you are looking at this fixture, you would be looking at it and thinking we should win.
“End of story. We have good players and at home that should be the minimum.
“We should be an attacking team and teams should struggle to come here and should be hanging on at times.
“We did that on Saturday, although at times we made it harder than we should have.
“It hasn’t gone to plan this season but that doesn’t mean that we are all suddenly bad players. It is about getting the right balance in the team and playing a specific way that suits us and creates chances, as well as keeping us tight at the back. We are a good team.”