Zander Clark labelled the best keeper for Scotland role - but Hearts admit injury doubt over Gary Mackay-Steven
Robbie Neilson believes Hearts’ Zander Clark is the best Scottish goalkeeper in the Premiership, adding that he can handle international duty if called up next month.
Scotland coach Steve Clarke must decide who replaces Craig Gordon after the Hearts captain’s horrific double leg break. With home matches against Cyprus and Spain looming, Clark’s form at Tynecastle Park makes him a strong contender to step in.
He has recorded five clean sheets in eight starts for Hearts since Gordon’s injury in December, including several impressive saves against Rangers in midweek. Manager Neilson feels he is possibly the league’s best keeper.
“I think Zander has been outstanding, I have been really pleased with him,” said Neilson. “He has big gloves to fill, as they say. If you look at him just now, he’s probably the best goalie in the league – and definitely the best Scottish one. Long may that continue.”
Gordon is not expected to play again until next season, although he recently began gym work despite only breaking his leg on Christmas Eve. The next Scotland squad will be announced early next month. “Craig still thinks he has a chance of getting in that,” joked Neilson. “I would expect Zander to be around about it. Craig is unavailable, [David] Marshall and Greegsy [Allan McGregor] have retired, so I would think he’ll be there or thereabouts. It’s up to Steve but every game he’s played for us he has been outstanding.”
Clarke called the former St Johnstone keeper into previous Scotland squads but he has yet to win a senior cap. Neilson doesn’t see that as an issue. “There’s only one way to get international experience and that’s playing internationals,” he explained.
“Zander has been in squads before, he’s played big games such as cup finals and in Europe. It wouldn’t faze him. He’s been great for us so far, and long may it continue. He’s excelled himself but we knew he would and that was one of the reasons we were determined to get him.
“We knew we had Craig Gordon but we needed someone line Zander to come in and he’s done as well as we expected. He had a number of saves the other night, but that is what he does – and that’s why people are mentioning Scotland.
“Potentially he’s not even peaked yet and if he keeps working he’ll continue to progress. When the international games come up in March, a few of the boys will want to be there or thereabouts for their countries. For us, it’s about performing at a level that will help them become international players.”
Hearts will make a late assessment of Michael Smith’s injured ankle before Saturday’s league match with Dundee United. Neilson conceded that midfielder Cammy Devlin’s hamstring will probably rule him out. Winger Gary Mackay-Steven, out with a broken foot since early October, may not play again this season after surgery. His Tynecastle contract expires this summer.
“It’s unfortunate. It was initially a foot problem and then an ankle problem, so he’s had an operation,” revealed Neilson. “It’s disappointing for Gary. He’s a great boy who I’ve known for a long time. He’s never really managed to get going this season. He’s out of contract at the end of the season but the most important thing is getting fit again. It looks like season over, but he might get fit for the final few games.”