Steven Naismith and Steven Fletcher have both used the dark blue of Scotland to prove that age is simply a number and, while some have been surprised to see the old guard back performing at the top, Hearts summer recruit Sean Clare says the quality of both players should not be underestimated.
A youngster coming through the ranks at Sheffield Wednesday as Fletcher spearheaded the attack, the Englishman was thrilled to see his former colleague playing a pivotal role as Scotland booked a place in the Nations League play-offs, while he has become well-appraised of the ability of Naismith since joining up with the on-loan Norwich star at Tynecastle.
Clare said: “When I was playing there [Fletcher] was injured but when I first broke in he was in and around it and I learned a lot from him, where to make my runs, when to hold, when to go. He really helped me. As a young player you go in there and you can be very nervous but he involved me like I had been there all season.
“I didn’t catch the [Scotland] game live but I watched some of the highlights on TV and he still looks a class act. He’s a top guy. He was really welcoming, especially when me and a few other players made our step up to the first team. You could see he’s still got a lot of quality, a lot of experience but in general he’s a great guy and a great player.”
Clare could say the same of Naismith, who answered Scotland manager Alex McLeish’s call in the earlier group games and whose leadership skills on and off the pitch have been vital in Hearts’ impressive start to the season.
“Naisy still doing it for club and country when fit, so can Fletch. Totally. 100 per cent. I can’t see why not. They’re both top quality players. They’ve played at some unbelievable levels against some unbelievable teams and they’re both very influential for both their clubs and their country and I have tried to learn from both of them every day.
“They both bring other people in, their hold-up play is unbelievable. That’s one of the big things I try to take from them, holding the ball up, bringing players in, spinning off. They both score goals but they also bring different things as well. Fletch is more of an aerial threat and Naisy’s a bit more on the ground, he can drive at players a bit more. So I think those two in the same Scotland team wouldn’t be a bad front line! They’re both great.”
The Gorgie club’s eventual drop from top spot has coincided with Naismith’s ongoing injury lay-off and, with a comeback still several weeks off, Hearts manager Craig Levein has thrown down the gauntlet to the other attacking players, including Clare, to step up and start finding the back of the net as they seek to get back to winning ways against second-bottom St Mirren today.
“I don’t feel there’s extra pressure,” said the 22-year-old. “Every game we go in to we need to be trying to play at our best, trying to create, score goals and help the team. Whether players are in or out, that’s our goal. Obviously there’s more of a need for goals from different areas but everyone in the team has to chip in.”