Why Hearts star Craig Halkett fully deserves his Scotland call-up - one of the country's move improved players

When you look around the Scottish Premiership this season, there are a number of candidates for most improved players.

Malky Mackay has transformed the Regan Charles-Cook from a versatile squad player into the league’s top goal scorer at Ross County. Zander Clark may be the difference between St Johnstone staying in the top-flight and relegation. Football analysis platform Wyscout have a ‘prevented goals’ metric for goalkeepers. Last season Clark’s was -6.78, no goalkeeper recorded a worse score. This campaign it is 8.97, better than the rest of his peers.

Other candidates could include Celtic's Anthony Ralston, Ian Harkes of Dundee United, Hibs’ Chris Cadden and Jack Fitzwater, the Livingston centre-back linked with Premier League sides.

Then there is Craig Halkett.

Halkett is one of the most improved players in the country. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The Hearts centre-back has been a colossus at the back for Robbie Neilson’s men as they ease to a third-place spot and with a Scottish Cup semi-final against rivals Hibs on the horizon.

‘Strolling it’

When Steve Clarke announced his squad last week for the upcoming friendly double header there was a tinge of disappointment in Gorgie with none of Halkett, Stephen Kingsley or Barrie McKay included. But it now appears, due to injuries elsewhere, the former has been rewarded for his form.

In Saturday's win over former side Livingston, his quality was clear, as was the way he has evolved at Tynecastle, strolling through the match.

Craig Halkett has been a key player for Hearts. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Without John Souttar, Halkett was positioned on the right-side of what was a back-three, back-four hybrid, depending on the situation.

Most impressive was the way he stepped out of defence and his use of the ball. There were a couple of Souttar-esque cross field passes, while there was another where he darted away from a couple of Livingston’s players and slid in Ellis Simms higher up the field.

Everything he did with the ball or without it, whether it was up against Alan Forrest or Joel Nouble, was carried out with the confidence of a player at the top of his game. No player who started had a better successful action success rate.

It is those stopper qualities, however, which have taken him from a player who had his doubters amongst the Hearts support to arguably the key defender at the club – the team winning just one of six league games he has missed – and into the Scotland squad.

Shape of his Hearts career

He is one of the most dominant players in the league when it comes to aerial duels, winning more than 76 per cent. He reads the game so well, engages with opponents in an aggressive but controlled manner and is a very difficult player to face in one v one situations, such is his stature and build. It’s like he has a pair of Mexican cypress for legs, when he gets his body in front of a striker there is no chance of them winning the ball. The only striker who has got close to him physically is Alfredo Morelos.

In making that jump back into the Premiership, it was clear from the moment he pulled on the Hearts jersey at the start of the season, he was in fantastic shape, clearly having worked hard during his break and pre-season.

Now, after a hugely consistent campaign, he has been rewarded. And deservedly so.

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