Hearts’ Craig Halkett on defensive competition and what he’s learning at Tynecastle
Craig Halkett capped his time as a Livingston player with a stunning goal from 40 yards out six minutes from the end of his final match for the club against St Johnstone at the end of last season. The 24-year-old centre-back required only eight minutes of his competitive debut to notch his first goal as he headed the opener in Hearts’ 2-0 Betfred Cup victory over Cowdenbeath on Tuesday.
Halkett has now netted five goals since mid-February, more than any Hearts player has managed within this period. The defender scored seven goals in total last season, taking his overall tally to 18 goals in three-and-a-half years with Livingston. There are plenty strikers out there who would be happy to have such digits on their CV.
“I have picked up where I left off,” smiled Halkett. “Chipping in with goals was something I wanted to do when I came here, but the most important thing against Cowdenbeath was just getting the win, and we got that as well as a clean sheet. That and getting a goal is good. Goals are something that I have wanted to add to my game so I’m really happy that I’ve done that.”
Halkett was a regular starter at Livingston, but the presence of Scotland centre-backs John Souttar and Christophe Berra at Hearts means week-to-week game-time is no longer guaranteed. After being an unused substitute against Dundee United on Friday, the former Rangers youngster was thrilled to get his competitive debut in game two of his new team’s Betfred Cup campaign.
“I was delighted to get the start,” he said. “It was my competitive debut so it was a perfect scenario to score and keep a clean sheet. It is always different coming out for a competitive game than it is for a friendly and we had a really good support, which was great. It was just good to get the debut and get the 90 minutes under my belt.”
Halkett is unfazed by the level of competition he faces in his quest to become a Hearts regular. “I knew before I signed that there were two boys in front of me in Christophe and John – they are both top players, international players. It is a massive challenge to come in here and try to get myself playing regularly and into the team, but it is something I want to do and I am looking forward to it.”
Halkett is encouraged by the way his first month as a Hearts player has gone and is excited about how things may unfold.
“The coaching staff are brilliant,” he said. “I have only been in for four weeks or so, but I already feel that I have learned so much. I’m just looking forward to the weeks ahead now.”
Despite only returning for pre-season a month ago, Hearts already have two competitive games under their belt. A return of five points from a possible six has left Craig Levein’s team top of Betfred Cup Group A at the half-way stage and on course to progress to the second round, with games against Stenhousemuir and East Fife to come next week. Halkett is a fan of being thrust into competitive action in mid-July, as opposed to playing friendlies right through to the Premiership kick-off in August.
“I like it,” he said. “If you ask any player, the quicker the games come, the better. The competitive games come just a few weeks after we come back for pre-season and for me it’s good to have games with that competitive edge so early. This is one of the major trophies in Scotland so you want to make sure you get out of the group and get into the later stages of the cup.”