Why Hearts feel Lawrence Shankland Scotland snub may be good thing - 'circumstances mean he's not at where he was last season'
National team manager Steve Clarke overlooked the Hearts captain for the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifier in Spain and friendly against France. Although the player will naturally be disappointed, Naismith sees it as an opportunity for the 28-year-old to use the two week recess to recharge his batteries as he prepares to start his 14th match in the space of two demanding months in Saturday’s visit of city rivals Hibs.
Naismith also points to “circumstances” being behind why Shankland is perhaps not firing on all cylinders amid a current seven-game run with scoring. That is something of a drought for a player who notched 28 last season and five in six games at the start of this term.
“I spoke to Steve about Shanks, having the relationship with him and understanding of what he wants,” said Naismith, who is hopeful of welcoming back injured trio Cammy Devlin, Kysouke Tagawa and Alex Cochrane against Hibs. “Shanks not being in the Scotland squad, circumstances mean he's not at where he was last season. Is it worth him going away for a week and a half, training sometimes, travelling, not playing and wasting time? The gaffer knows him, the gaffer trusts him. All round the best decision is that he stays.
“If Scotland need him he can definitely turn up and play his part. But he's not really had a big break. He was away in the summer (with Scotland), came back in and because he was a leader he wanted to come back in and be involved through pre-season. He was away last month. There is so much going on with him that the rest will do him a world of good.”
Injuries and reshuffles in the attacking third have also hindered Shankland’s ability to form and maintain on pitch partnerships. “I think that's the biggest issue for us this season,” added Naismith. “That connection is the hardest part to get and build and work and to understand. When the ball has to move as quickly as it can to get you a chance you need to get the connections, we've not done that enough, we've not had the time.”
That being said, Naismith – searching for his first derby win in the dugout at the third attempt against debutant Nick Montgomery – is still more than happy with Shankland’s overall output. He added: “Shanks is a proven goal scorer. He has had these situations where he's maybe not scoring but for me he brings so much more. I think his all-round play as a forward since he came here has gone up. He's now looking like an experienced leader. One thing I was surprised by was his leadership skills. Yes, there have been times he's not been at his level but Shanks is a goal scorer so if we are not providing opportunities for him he's going to suffer. I’ve got no concerns with him not scoring goals. I think by the end of the season he will have another good season of scoring goals.”