Scotland call-up for Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley a matter of time
Stephen Kingsley might well bump into Steve Clarke in the Oriam corridors this morning. The Hearts defender will be going in to do conditioning work with his club and the Scotland manager will be debriefing his squad after last night’s impressive Nations League victory over Ukraine.
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall if they did cross paths. With games against the Republic of Ireland on Saturday and Ukraine again in Krakow on Tuesday still to come it wouldn’t come as a total surprise if Clarke asked the 28-year-old defender to swap his training kit and join his squad to provide extra cover at the back, especially after losing right-back Nathan Patterson to injury.
Clarke is already without Grant Hanley, Liam Cooper, John Souttar and Andy Robertson. He has only three recognised central defenders in his squad – Jack Hendry, Scott McKenna and Ryan Porteous.
Kieran Tierney and Scott McTominay, of course, have often been deployed in the centre-back positions by Clarke as well, but mainly when he has played with a back three. But the Manchester United midfielder has not always been convincing in that role and was outstanding in midfield last night. The Scotland boss has not given himself too many other options at central defence.
What Kingsley would add to the squad isn’t just defensive nous, composure on the ball, an ability to step out of defence in possession, intelligence and a deadly dead-ball delivery. He also adds versatility.
His best position is left-sided centre-back. But in a back four he has demonstrated this season that he can seamlessly slot in as a right-sided defender and he is accomplished as an orthodox left-back too. Kingsley would provide cover in positions that Clarke needs.
An engaging, mature and intelligent character, he would also fit just as seamlessly into the tight knit group Clarke has created off the pitch.
Every time he is asked about his Scotland prospects, Kingsley answers diplomatically. All I can do is concentrate on doing well for Hearts, is what he says.
He is doing well for Hearts. Very well. His signing on a free transfer after leaving Hull City two years ago – he signed a one-year contract on October 6 2020 – was one of the shrewdest pieces of business Robbie Neilson and Joe Savage have done at Tynecastle Park.
Hearts were in the Championship at the time, and his value to the team is such that he has signed two contract extensions since he arrived. His current deal runs until the summer of 2025.
Kingsley received his first Scotland call-up in May 2016 for friendlies against Italy and France when he was a Swansea City player in the Premier League. He made his one and only Scotland appearance as a substitute in the 3-0 defeat to France that summer.
With his game time at Swansea somewhat limited, he moved to Hull City in the English Championship in a bid to kick-on, only for a series of injuries to strike.
He has had a niggling hamstring injury to contend with this season too, which may be the only thing that has counted against him from Clarke’s point of view.
But he has been excellent in Europe and his outstanding performance against Motherwell, the highlight of which was his through-ball for Nathaniel Atkinson which led to the third goal, suggests he is more than ready. His on-field relationship with Craig Gordon also counts in his favour.
Kingsley is now in his prime as a defender and is settled at Hearts. Clarke has demonstrated before, by handing Declan Gallagher nine caps and Stephen O’Donnell 26, that he is willing to trust solid Scottish Premiership defenders who don’t play for the Old Firm.
If Gallagher and O’Donnell were worth their place in Clarke’s Scotland team, never mind the squad, surely it is only a matter of time before Kingsley gets his chance.