Why injury update on unsung hero Craig Halkett is such good news for Hearts
When Craig Halkett was replaced late during Hearts’ 3-0 win over Livingston following a head collision with Bruce Anderson it brought an end to a run of 50 league games where the defender had played every minute.
Since returning to the team for a 5-0 battering at Rangers in December 2019 having recovered from knee ligament damage, the 26-year-old has missed just three of 67 fixtures.
The good news for Hearts fans is it is unlikely to be four in 68 when Motherwell come to Tynecastle Park at the weekend as third meets fourth with a chance to go top of the cinch Premiership, for a day at least.
Any injury involving the head understandably brings an extra bit of caution but according to the Scottish Sun, Halkett is set to face the Steelmen after responding positively.
Neilson said: “He was a bit wheezy so we took him off.”
The centre-back has had his doubters amongst the Hearts support but through his assured performances this season he is slowly but surely winning them over.
Supporters getting what they wanted
When Halkett arrived at the club in 2019, his signing was viewed as quite the coup having performed so well for Livingston, marshalling their back three as captain. He started his career at Tynecastle Park strongly but then came that knee injury at St Mirren early in the infamous 2019/20 season.
Across the past couple of years, supporters have wanted more from their centre-back who was seen as a future Scotland cap when he joined.
Now they are getting it and it is no surprise it comes with Halkett the central figure in a back three, exactly the role he thrived in for Livingston.
His ability to cover, read danger, get in the right position and sweep was seen in the win over his former club.
In the 26th minute he motored over to collect a long ball played in behind Taylor Moore, got his body in front of the opponent and calmly knocked the ball far away from danger. Nothing flashy but in that position, simple, straightforward defending is all that is required and that is what he is very good at.
Monster in the air
There are few players in the league as strong, aggressive and as good at using their body. In first half stoppage time, Halkett earned a round of applause for chasing down a ball in the final third and outmuscling Jack Fitzwater to win possession back.
When it comes to recovering the ball, in comparison to his team-mates, he is way out in front. In the Premiership no player has a better aerial duel win ratio than Halkett’s 75 per cent and he's fourth for interceptions.
In possession, it is common to see opponents allow Halkett to have the ball, while shutting off passing lanes for John Souttar and Stephen Kingsley.
With a 92.62 per cent passing accuracy, the fifth best in the league, the Hearts star looks to keep it simple. But he showed in the recent draw with Ross County he is capable of being an asset with the ball, stepping out and breaking the lines to find Gary Mackay-Steven in the build-up to the opening goal.
Halkett looks fitter and more comfortable than at any point in his Hearts career. And the season's unsung hero is now undroppable.