Hearts defender Craig Halkett says he is ready to start against Rangers

Centre-back has recovered from damaged knee ligaments

By Barry Anderson
Saturday, 30th November 2019, 7:35 am
Craig Halkett is fit again for Hearts after injury
Craig Halkett is fit again for Hearts after injury

Craig Halkett today declared himself fit and ready to start for Hearts against Rangers at Ibrox. The defender is poised to return to the team seven weeks after damaging knee ligaments at St Mirren and insisted he is raring to go.

Hearts travel west tomorrow still without a permanent manager but Halkett’s return is a bonus for the man in interim charge, Austin MacPhee. The 24-year-old explained why he identified the trip to Glasgow as a potential comeback match weeks ago.

“It’s been a long time out so I’m just delighted to be back,” he said. “This was the one I was aiming for when I first got injured seven weeks ago. I was given eight to ten weeks as a timeframe and I was always focused on getting back just before that if I could do everything right without hiccups. This was the game it fell for.

“That’s me ready. I’ve been back fit and training for two weeks with the squad now. I did a good couple of weeks with the physio back out on the pitch before I went back in with the squad, so I’m fighting fit and ready to go if selected.”

His return is rather timely given Hearts have conceded eight goals in their last three games since sacking Craig Levein. Halkett was sorry to see Levein lose his job.

“Sitting on the sidelines, there isn’t much you can do to effect the game. If I do play on Sunday, I will do everything I can to help us keep a clean sheet and get points for the club,” he said.

“I was gutted when I found out because I’ve got a lot to thank Craig for. He brought me to the club, put faith in me, put me in the team and started me in a lot of games. He made me captain in my last game when I got injured. I was disappointed to see him go. If you ask the players, we should be doing everything every day to get into the team whether we have an existing manager, an interim manager or a new guy watching from the sidelines. Whoever comes in, everyone has a clean slate.”

Halkett and Hearts face a daunting task tomorrow in trying to stifle the predatory Rangers forward Alfredo Morelos. His two Europa League strikes against Feyenoord on Thursday night took his tally to 24 goals in 28 games, making him the most in-form striker in the country by a distance.

“It’s going to be hard. He is flying just now, as is the whole Rangers team,” conceded Halkett. “Everyone in our dressing room will need to be at the top of their game and hope some in the opposition dressing room have an off day. We are all up for it.”

Provided he remains fit and recaptures the impressive form he showed for Hearts early this season, Halkett should again become a contender for a Scotland call-up in the near future. The knee injury denied him likely international recognition during October and November and he admitted the timing could not have been worse.

“It was a really difficult one,” explained the centre-back, who joined Hearts frm Livingston during the summer. “The Scotland squads were coming up and the [Betfred] semi-final. That was a big one I was really disappointed about.

“That’s why you come to a club like Hearts, to play in semis and finals. I haven’t done that yet so it was a sore one to take. The Scotland situation was uncertain about the defenders who were going to be in the squad so I think there might have been a chance I could have been involved.

“I was delighted for Declan Gallagher getting his call-up having been his team-mate for the last three years at Livingston. Then, the following month, to make his debut and get his two caps, I was over the moon for him.

“Putting the Scotland thing aside, it’s more just about getting back fit and doing the job for Hearts more than anything. Being on the sidelines, it’s been tough to watch the results. We haven’t picked up as many points as we should have. It’s about getting back and getting Hearts back up the table.”