Scott McKenna will be briefing his fellow Aberdeen defenders about the danger posed by Hearts talisman Steven Naismith ahead of this weekend’s fixture between the teams at Tynecastle.
The pair spent last week together on Scotland duty and the 22-year-old Dons centre-back was hugely impressed with the way the 32-year-old attacker, one of the senior members of Alex McLeish’s squad, went about his business on and off the pitch.
McKenna also has the experience of playing against Naismith twice at club level towards the end of last season and, although he is suspended for Saturday’s trip to Tynecastle, he will be reminding his colleagues, including new Scotland call-up Mikey Devlin, about the importance of shackling Hearts’ influential top scorer.
“Naisy’s a clear dangerman for Hearts,” McKenna told the Evening News. “He’s obviously scored a good few goals this season for Hearts and Scotland, so he’s a big threat. Big Mikey will have learned a lot about his movement after being involved with Scotland, so hopefully we can keep him quiet on Saturday. If we can do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
In the 3-1 loss to Portugal at Hampden on Sunday, Naismith scored his ninth goal for Scotland and his 11th in total for club and country this season. McKenna enjoyed working alongside the former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Norwich City player on international duty. “He’s a brilliant guy, someone I learnt a lot from with Scotland,” said the Aberdeen defender. “He’s very vocal. In training he’s always getting on at boys if the standard’s not good enough. It’s not to put them down, it’s to try and improve them. Off the pitch, he’ll have a quiet word with boys to tell them what they should be doing and how they can do things better. He’s played at a level that a lot of us want to try and get to so any wee bits of information we can take on board from him can be helpful.”
McKenna was also thrilled to be united with another Hearts player on international duty after he and fellow 22-year-old centre-back John Souttar were part of the full Scotland squad for the first time together. The pair have known each other for years after coming through the ranks in the north east and played their first 16 minutes alongside each other for McLeish’s side before the Hearts defender was sent off in Israel last Thursday.
“I’m from Forfar and John’s from Laurencekirk so I’ve played against him all the way through the age groups,” said McKenna. “I’ve played with him for a few years in the Scotland set-up as well so I know him pretty well now. Unfortunately the time we got on the pitch together against Israel wasn’t as long as we’d have liked. It’s been the aim for both of us, after going from 19s to 21s, to try and play in the A squad together. We both know that if we keep putting in performances for our clubs, we’re giving the Scotland manager a decision to make. Hopefully we’re both here for the long haul.”
Even though he is suspended for the recent challenge on Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard that earned him a retrospective two-game ban, McKenna will be at Tynecastle to support his team-mates. He expects a closely-contested match between table-topping Hearts and an Aberdeen side who have shown glimpses of getting back on track after a start to the season which has left them in seventh place, albeit only seven points behind the leaders.
“They’ve started the season really well but it’s a game I’d love to have been involved in,” he said. “Last season we got beat by Hearts at Tynecastle and we took points off them at Pittodrie. We’ve had a slightly slower start to the season than we’d have liked but we know if we turn up, it’s a game we’re well capable of winning. We’re two teams that should be competing up near the top of the table. With the league as open as it is just now, it’s up to us to try and climb the table because we’re a lot further down than we’d have liked. But there are a few big games coming up and if we beat Hearts, it closes the gap on them. Everyone’s beating everyone at the moment so we know if we string a few results together it’ll take us back up towards the top of the table. Hopefully that starts on Saturday.”