Hearts understand Scotland's stance on Lawrence Shankland - 'he just need to continue doing it for us'
The national team manager announced his squad for the upcoming Euro qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain and the Jambos’ high-scoring Scot was one of the more notable omissions. However, the Tynecastle gaffer noted the timing of the recent hamstring strain, which sidelined Shankland for the league and cup double header with Celtic, was not ideal.
“He would have been fit for Scotland because hopefully he’ll be playing Saturday but I can understand Steve’s perspective on it,” said Neilson. “He’s not played a lot of games in the last couple of weeks. Also there are guys he’s very loyal to within that squad who Lawrence has to try to get in ahead of.”
While some clubs would be happy to wrap star performers in cotton wool at such a pivotal period of the season, Neilson is keen for his men to push themselves to the highest level. “I would rather him go away with the national team because it gives him that lift and puts him training at that level,” he said. “Obviously you hope they come back uninjured but the more we get away the better for us. He’s been outstanding this season but I think he has to get into the Scotland team, show what he can do at that level, then stay there.”
The first Hearts player in more than 30 years to bag in excess of 20 league goals in a single season, this term he also became the first player to score a domestic hat-trick against Celtic since 1985, and gained experience of playing on the European stage. Clarke first called Shankland into the senior squad in 2019, gave him his first cap and then his first start against San Marino (the striker netted the fourth goal in a 6-0 victory) but since then, others have established themselves as regulars and Neilson says he will have to keep knocking on the door. “Ultimately I don’t pick the [Scotland] team,” added Neilson “But, Lawrence has probably been one of our best players this year. I knew what we’d get when we signed him – a goalscorer. He just needs to continue doing it for us.”