ALIM OZTURK is adamant Jamie Walker deserves a Scotland call-up – because he is better than some players named in Gordon Strachan’s squads. The Hearts captain watched Walker score his fifth goal in seven games in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Dundee and then touted him for full international recognition.
Walker sprinted on to Arnaud Djoum’s defence-splitting pass to round goalkeeper Scott Bain and score after 53 minutes. He has struck five times in five weeks since returning from a three-month injury lay-off but was overlooked when Strachan named two squads for friendlies against Czech Republic and Denmark.
A Scotland call-up is surely just a matter of time. Provided he maintains form, Walker can expect to secure a place in the full squad for season-ending friendlies against Italy and France. Ozturk will be monitoring the situation closely.
Asked if the forward merited a chance at international level, Ozturk replied: “One hundred per cent. If you see his talent, he is a really good player. He knows exactly what he is doing. I’m sure he will [get into the squad]. Maybe it was about his injury but, when I see the names, he is better than some of them.
“I see him every day, he is a really good player and he is just 22. He is still young and he will be a big one. He was injured, he came back, and now he has scored five goals in the last seven games. I think he’s doing really well. He’s a really important player for us.”
After recovering from knee surgery, Walker’s return has acted like a massive tonic on Hearts’ European quest. Saturday was their fourth successive win without conceding a goal. The scoreline should have been rather more emphatic, for the visitors failed to convert a number of clear scoring chances in the first half at Dens Park.
Walker, Juanma Delgado and Arnaud Djoum were the main culprits. Bain – who did receive a Scotland call-up last week – made an instinctive stop from the Spaniard’s header on 14 minutes, it must be said. Neil Alexander had to parry Paul McGowan’s driven effort early in the second half as Dundee threatened to make Hearts regret their profligacy. Then, Djoum carved open the home defence with a sublime pass for Walker to score.
Winning with clean sheets is the perfect combination. The visitors’ defensive resolve was all the more impressive given their back four contained three teenagers, plus 23-year-old Ozturk. Liam Smith, John Souttar and Jordan McGhee looked assured and confident against 20-goal Dundee striker Kane Hemmings. Smith showed excellent reading of the game to prevent a certain equaliser near the end, when he cleared substitute Rory Loy’s shot off his own goal line.
“All of them were 19 years old, I was the most experienced one. I am the Grandpa,” laughed Ozturk. “You see how they played and they were really good. We got another clean sheet. Everybody was asking: ‘How will they do it with the young guys?’
“Igor Rossi had an injury and Callum Paterson is out. I’m really happy for the young guys. It’s nice for the defenders and the keeper to keep clean sheets. If you win 1-0 or 3-0, I don’t care. We score in almost every game and it’s really important we don’t concede goals.
“In the first half, we missed four 100 per cent chances. We could have killed the game but we didn’t and it was 0-0 at half-time. We played really well. The second half was alright, not as good as the first half but we got another really important win and a clean sheet as well.”
An added bonus was a debut for new signing Perry Kitchen. He played the last 17 minutes in central midfield after replacing Sam Nicholson. It will take him time to adjust to the frenetic nature of Scottish football but, nonetheless, he proved in his short cameo that he has a definite combative streak.
He will have a part to play between now and the end of the season. However, he must assert himself forcefully to hold down a place in an increasingly competitive Tynecastle midfield. Don Cowie was again imperious at the weekend and created several of the openings referred to in the first half. Djoum was both industrious and crafty, whilst Prince Buaben was reliable in more of a holding role.
Hearts would be wise to continue with a settled side over the next few weeks if they want to make ground on second-placed Aberdeen. “I think we can [catch them]. The gap is nine points but we have one game in hand. We are looking forward to the next game. We have to win all our games,” said Ozturk.
For Dundee manager Paul Hartley, there was significant regret that the chances his players did create weren’t seized upon. “We had some fantastic opportunities and we just didn’t take our chances,” he complained. “Hearts get a golden opportunity and they take it.”
Loy’s failure to convert when through on Alexander was the hosts’ best chance of the afternoon. “I think he maybe has to go round the goalkeeper and show that little bit of composure. It’s a good move and I think it’s going to be a goal but you need to take your chances or you get punished,” added Hartley.