HEARTS will ask for Sam Nicholson and Jordan McGhee to be freed from Scotland Under-21 duty in order to have them available to play against Falkirk a week tomorrow. Head coach Robbie Neilson would consider going ahead with the game anyway, but is hopeful that the two, due to report to the age-group squad on the Friday evening, will be allowed to stay with their club for an extra day.
Defender Callum Paterson and goalkeeper Jack Hamilton have also been called up by the under-21s for their friendly in Switzerland on Tuesday 18 November, but Paterson is suspended from club duty and Hamilton is not Hearts’ first-choice ’keeper in any case. Clubs are allowed to request a postponement of a fixture if three or more of their players have been called up for international duty.
Rangers, who could ask for a deferment of their match at Alloa on the same day, have also opted to go ahead with the fixture – a reversal of their decision during the last international date, when their match away to Cowdenbeath was put back to this week. But, with only four points separating the Ibrox club from league leaders Hearts, neither of the title-chasers appears willing to allow the other to steal a march on them.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“We could have called it off – we’ve got enough players away to do it,” Neilson said yesterday. “But we’ve got enough players to cover. It’s an opportunity, one, for guys to go on international duty and, two, for guys to come in and play.
“We’re not really worried about what other teams do. We just want to play every Saturday, as it keeps the players in a routine. It gives the fans somewhere to go on a Saturday, and they’ll turn up at Falkirk in their thousands again, as opposed to going along on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night after work.
“I’m pleased with the call-ups and there possibly could have been more. I’m disappointed for Billy [King] a little bit. Billy got called up the last time when somebody had pulled out injured. He came in and did well.
“There’s a few guys that have dropped in from the ‘A’ squad back to the under-21s, so they will possibly have taken that position. It’s up to Billy to continue working, and I’m sure if he does he’ll get himself back in there.
“Everyone’s got a chance. If you’re young and you’re Scottish and doing well, then you’ve got a chance of being called up.
“I think it’s great what Gordon [Strachan, Scotland manager] is doing. He’s getting young guys involved, whether it be for a couple of trips and then bring them back to the 21s and then somebody else goes in. It’s great, it’s a good experience. That’s the reason why we’re not looking to call off the Falkirk game. We want to play it, but we also want our guys to go and be involved and be a part of it.”
Neilson would rather have played another match last weekend than had time off while the third round of the Scottish Cup was played, but instead allowed his players a break before the build-up began to tomorrow’s home game against Raith Rovers. “I would have preferred to keep going, but the players were able to get a few days off and now the focus is on the Raith Rovers game,” he said. “It’s important to get a bit of time off, but as a coach you want to keep playing games.”
The Hearts boss was yesterday named Championship Manager of the Month for the second time this season, and it was no surprise he chose not to make too much of the award. Humility and understatement have been two key characteristics of his time in the job, and this time was no different, as he insisted the credit for this latest award should be shared with the players and with the rest of the backroom staff, among them assistant coach Stevie Crawford. “It’s nice, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
“It’s an award that’s great for the club and for the staff. We work hard in here: Stevie was in yesterday at 8am and left at 9:30pm. I do the same most days, so it’s a wee bit of a reward for that.
“There’s still a long way to go. We’ve got a big month this month, next month’s a big month, and so is the next month again. It’s important we keep working hard.”
Neilson was also named Manager of the Month for August after Hearts got off to a flying start in the league, winning their opening game at Ibrox then beating Hibernian in the first Edinburgh derby of the season. Hibs boss Alan Stubbs received the award for September.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS