Aaron Hughes is preparing to partner Christophe Berra in central defence for Hearts this weekend with John Souttar injured.
Manager Craig Levein admitted Hughes is the natural replacement for Souttar, who is out with concussion sustained on Scotland Under-21 duty.
Hughes, 38, played his first 90 minutes in two months for Northern Ireland against Switzerland on Sunday, but was left disappointed as his country were knocked out of the World Cup.
A troublesome calf injury now cured, the defender is ready to step in for Souttar back at club level. “It makes sense because the fact Aaron has played 90 minutes will help us, and help him enormously as well,” Levein told the Evening News.
“I see that as pretty straightforward. As long as he’s fine, it’s just a straightforward replacement.”
Hughes became the most capped defender in British football history with his appearance for Northern Ireland. He now has 109 caps, one more than the legendary former England player Bobby Moore.
“It’s fantastic, although I don’t think his emotions would be of joy on Sunday night because of how things turned out for Northern Ireland,” said Levein. “He’ll be bitterly disappointed about that but it is a significant achievement to surpass some legendary players.
“Everybody at the club is really proud of his achievement. You need to be durable to play international football because everybody else who isn’t an internationalist gets a rest when countries are playing.
“You are throwing yourself into even harder games, so Aaron’s durability is remarkable. He maybe could have got even more caps had he not stopped playing for Northern Ireland for a while [in 2011].”
Levein is now desperate to see Hughes get an injury-free run in the Hearts team. “There are no more international matches for a while so we will look at his schedule. Between him, the docs and the physios, we can look at exactly what’s best for him. I’m hopeful he stays fit,” explained the manager.
“I spoke to him before he left for international duty and he was confident the calf was really strong. He had been doing a lot of work on his hamstrings as well, so we’re hopeful but you never know.
“He is 38 now but he’s kept himself extremely fit. We just want him to get a little bit of luck and gets the opportunity to play a number of consecutive matches for us.”