Craig Halkett reveals why Hearts team-mate is butt of the jokes as he addresses Scotland chat
There has been talk already this season about the prospect of international call-ups for Craig Halkett and Barrie McKay.
The pair deserved recognition in the form of medals simply for emerging from a chaotic 90 minutes against Dundee United on Saturday unscathed.
They also combined to produce the equaliser with nine minutes left that saw Hearts take something from a game that might yet contain a bitter sting in its tail for the Tynecastle side.
Manager Robbie Neilson will wait on news from the physios’ room at the start of this week. The players are off on Monday but Riccarton will likely still be a busy place.
Five players were taken off on Saturday, including John Souttar. A sixth, Josh Ginnelly, was shaking hands with members of the opposition from his position on the ground having slumped to the turf. The team lines for Saturday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against St Mirren could be interesting.
Providing McKay and Halkett remain fit, there’s always hope. The former took the corner from which the latter sent a well-directed header into the corner of the net against United.
Such was the focus on the number of substitutions – “I have never seen anything like it in my 25 years in football,” said Neilson later – as well as the quality of the first two goals in the game, from the two Liams, Boyce and Smith, Halkett’s header did not perhaps receive the credit it deserved. It is his second goal of the season – his first also earned a point, against Rangers in October – and his tenth for Hearts in total.
That’s ten more than McKay, whose wait to break his duck for Hearts continues. But when he continues to prove so influential, even in blood and thunder encounters like on Saturday, it’s hardly an issue. The midfielder was as watchable as ever and was a pleasing antidote to the attrition.
Halkett revealed McKay’s troubles in front of goal – if that is what they are – are beginning to cause some amusement in the dressing-room. They shouldn’t derail his Scotland ambitions. There is so much else to his game – as Halkett can attest.
“The number of assists he has is great but it’s becoming a bit of a joke among the boys in the fact he hasn’t scored yet,” said the defender. “If he keeps doing what he is I am sure the goal will come.”
It’s not clear yet when Scotland will play their World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine. It is due to take place a fortnight on Thursday but the Ukraine FA have asked Fifa for a postponement. Halkett and McKay will surely come into Steve Clarke’s thinking whenever Scotland next play. Neilson has already put the defender’s name forward.
“It’s great to hear the gaffer saying he thinks I could be selected for Scotland,” said Halkett. “From my point of view it’s just about getting my head down and playing as well as I can for Hearts.
“I need to try and get us in the best position we can in the league. If a Scotland cap came on the back of that I would be absolutely delighted.
“I can’t deny it - every player dreams of playing for your country. Right now it’s about playing for Hearts and doing my best for them.”
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