JAMIE MacDonald’s penalty save at Pittodrie on Saturday has led to renewed calls for him to be selected for the Scotland squad, but the Hearts goalkeeper himself believes he has a lot of competition.
With Allan McGregor out through injury, Scott Fox of Partick Thistle has been included along with David Marshall and Matt Gilks for the forthcoming friendlies against the United States and Norway. Agreeing that Fox had been playing well lately, MacDonald modestly suggested that several others could be regarded as contenders to be the third keeper in Gordon Strachan’s squad.
“It would be great to get involved with Scotland, but it could have been any one of four or five goalkeepers,” the 27-year-old said yesterday. “Jamie Langfield at Aberdeen has been keeping clean sheets for fun, Scott Fox has done well, and Craig Samson and Cammy Bell have been in squads before.
“If it had happened then it would have been fantastic. But I need to concentrate on playing well here and if it comes around then it would be great.
“It’s taken me so long to become a Hearts regular, but that’s me been in the side for about two years. It was a long time coming and there were a couple of times I thought about leaving and trying my luck elsewhere. I stuck it out and thankfully I’ve got my chance, albeit in difficult circumstances.
“I just want to improve as a goalkeeper, and if a Scotland thing comes up in the future then I’d be delighted.
“But there’s a lot of good goalkeepers in Scotland and you need to wait your turn.”
Having said that, MacDonald has clearly enhanced his reputation in the past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago a couple of vital saves denied Hibernian in the early stages of the League Cup quarter-final, which Hearts went on to win 1-0. And on Saturday his spot-kick save from Niall McGinn was the turning point as Gary Locke’s side fought back from a goal down to win 3-1.
Such performances have been crucial in a Hearts team whose inexperience has often led to defensive lapses, and who had picked up just a single point from their previous eight SPFL matches before Saturday. Having begun the season with a 15-point penalty for going into administration, they still have a long way to go before they can harbour realistic hopes of avoiding relegation, but MacDonald is confident that victory at Pittodrie can only strengthen his team-mates’ self-belief.
“We very much enjoyed Saturday – it’s been a long time coming in the league and it was a massive three points for us,” he said. “It was good for confidence.
“I feel we’ve done okay in the last eight games – apart from one or two matches – but we haven’t got the rub of the green which maybe we got up at Pittodrie at the weekend. Having said that, we didn’t get any luck at their penalty award. Having seen the incident again, the ball hit [Jordan McGhee] square on the back. But there was one before it that might have been a penalty, so maybe it balanced out.
“But it was a great performance in the second half from the boys. We stuck in there to get the win. It just shows after a run of eight in the league without a win that these boys will keep going. I don’t think you could ever question the boys’ workrate or desire to win.”
In normal circumstances, teams are keen on playing another competitive match as quickly as possible after such inspiring wins. But MacDonald accepts that, with such a small squad, Hearts may benefit by having a ten-day break from tomorrow’s friendly against Wolfsburg to the visit of Ross County to Tynecastle.
“It’s nice to have a little break from the league. We’ve put a lot into the last couple of weeks, with the Hibs cup game and we looked tired in the second half against St Johnstone last week, so it’s maybe come at the right time. Our first aim, which it has been for weeks now, is to get to zero. We’re a step closer to that and then we can assess our targets, but at the end of the day we need to start winning, which was the problem for the last eight games.”
Wolfsburg lie fifth in the Bundesliga and triumphed 2-1 against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. But, whatever the outcome of the match, MacDonald believes the experience will stand his team-mates in good stead. “German teams have been pretty much the best in Europe for the last few years,” he said.
“It will be a great experience for the younger lads. I’ve been lucky enough to play in European games against Liverpool and Spurs and it will be an eye opener for the boys to see the standard at top level.”