DANNY GRAINGER firmly believes Gary Hooper should be in the England squad but insists Hearts’ international defenders can put the shackles on the striker tomorrow.
Celtic hitman Hooper has been in fine form of late and scored again in midweek as Celtic claimed a stunning victory away to Spartak Moscow in the Champions League.
The Englishman and Greek team-mate Georgios Samaras both hit the net as the Parkhead bagged their first ever away win in the competition, helped by an own goal in the 3-2 win.
The Jambos travel to Parkhead tomorrow on league business and Grainger is well aware of the danger that on-form Hooper will pose.
He reckons the former Scunthorpe striker, who has, as yet, been overlooked by England boss Roy Hodgson, can’t be too far away from a call-up but believes that Andy Webster and Marius Zaliukas – who represent Scotland and Lithuania at international level respectively – have enough quality in their lockers to shut him out.
Grainger said: “He is a top player and I think it is only a matter of time before he gets a phone call to play in the England team. You cannot ignore someone who is scoring the amount of goals he is scoring.
“Roy Hodgson has showed by picking Fraser Forster that he isn’t ignoring Celtic players.
“I would like to see him in the squad. I would want any player who is scoring goals.
“He is always a hard player to face with his movement and his intelligence.
“But we have two international centre halves who have plenty of ability to cope with Gary Hooper.
“It isn’t just Gary Hooper we have to worry about though – they have 11 players we have to be on top of our game to stop. I think playing in the Champions League is helping them with Fraser picked for the England squad.
“They are playing on a bigger stage and it shows Roy is keeping his eye on Celtic.”
The Tynecastle club have won just twice in the current league campaign, despite both the manager and players feeling that their displays have merited more of a return.
Grainger knows that they must change that trend this weekend if they are to have any ambitions of challenging at the top of the table this season.
The Hearts defender added: “We haven’t started the season the way we wanted but it is still very early.
“There is no reason why we can’t kick on from here. I wouldn’t say the league is dead and buried if we don’t get a result on Sunday but it is a massive game for us.
“We have dropped so many points at home so far and now these are teams we have to take points from.
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we have to win games and if we don’t do that, then we won’t be challenging.
“It is not about anyone else, it is about us in the dressing room and we need to start putting things right on the pitch.”
Grainger has never won a match against Celtic on their home patch and admits that, if he is to have something to celebrate tomorrow, Hearts will first have to cut out all of the simple mistakes which have been costing them so dear in recent weeks.
“A 0-0 draw is the closest I have got at Parkhead,” he said. “We know it will be a hard game but we have a chance of getting a result if we play the way we know we can. We are creating chances which is the positive thing so if we weren’t then we would be worried.
“It is just silly little mistakes at the back are being punished and I don’t think we are far away because we have a really good team. Once we click then it is only a matter of time before we start getting results to get us up the table.”
Celtic will pocket over £10 million from their Champions League group stage exploits to strengthen for next season and Grainger admitted that there is nothing other Scottish clubs can do to match that.
However he insisted there is no point in looking to the negatives and says clubs like Hearts must instead focus on making their own team performances as good as they possibly can be on a consistent basis.
Having more than held their own in the Europa League play-off round against Liverpool back in August, Grainger knows that determination and focus can go a long way.
“It is difficult for clubs to compete against but moaning about it isn’t going to help us,” he said.
“We need to make sure we put in the performances and get the points we need to stay as close to them as we can.
“We played against Liverpool who are one of the best in the world and we matched them.
“And we were better than them in long spells of the games.
“Celtic can go to places and win despite not playing well which is the sign of a good team.
“They seem to be able to do it on a consistent basis.”