Why Hearts’ Craig Halkett still has chance to force his way into Scotland squad

Steve Clarke has left the door open for Hearts defender Craig Halkett to earn a late call-up to the Scotland squad.
Hearts defender Craig Halkett is on the radar of Scotland boss Steve Clarke. Pic: SNSHearts defender Craig Halkett is on the radar of Scotland boss Steve Clarke. Pic: SNS
Hearts defender Craig Halkett is on the radar of Scotland boss Steve Clarke. Pic: SNS

Scots boss Clarke has named three central defenders - Norwich’s Grant Hanley, Blackburn’s Charlie Mulgrew and Leeds’ Liam Cooper - for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Belgium and Russia next month, but has left a slot free for a fourth after injuries ruled out Hearts’ John Souttar, Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna and Kilmarnock’s Stuart Findlay from being part of the group.

The former Kilmarnock manager admitted he has been impressed with Halkett’s performances at Tynecastle this term and at Livingston last season. He will monitor the 24-year-old in Hearts’ match against Hamilton Accies this weekend before deciding between him, Aberdeen’s Mikey Devlin and Sheffield Wednesday’s David Bates.

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“I have actually left a space because of the three late calls offs – there is space for another one,” said Clarke.

“David Bates has gone to Sheffield Wednesday and not played yet. Andy Considine has been keeping Mikey Devlin out of the Aberdeen team. That might change, he might get a chance now Scott [McKenna] has been ruled out. And Craig Halkett did well last year for Livingston and is in the Hearts team – I watched him on Sunday against Celtic and he did OK.

“Anyone can score an own goal [Halkett netted one at Celtic Park], I scored a few of them myself! We have other options. I want to take a bit more time and see if some of them get some more game time before deciding whether to bring another one in.”

One Hearts player who has been included in Clarke’s 24-man squad is experienced forward Steven Naismith, who is on the verge of winning 50 caps. The 32-year-old has recovered from a hamstring issue and provided he gets through Saturday’s match with Hamilton unscathed, he will join up with the national team next week.

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“I’ve been fortunate in that Steven Naismith is going to be available,” said Clarke. “He’s fit and training this week.

“Steven’s also got a number of goals for his country – I think it’s nine in 49 – so that gives us a little boost on the goalscoring front.”

Clarke also decided against asking too much, too soon of Leigh Griffiths.

The Celtic striker had declared himself willing and able to return to the Scotland fold earlier this summer but he failed to make the squad.

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The 29-year-old has netted three goals this season after missing the last six months of the last campaign to deal with mental health issues.

“He was close,” Clarke said. “Listen, Leigh has got some fantastic attributes. I just look at him just now and he’s come a long way in a short space of time after a very difficult spell in his life.

“And I feel we should just give him a little more time to settle into the role again at Celtic and get himself fully fit and firing. And a fully fit and firing, sharp Leigh Griffiths will always be good for us.

“But at the moment I just feel it’s a little bit too early to push him.”