Kilmarnock V Hearts at Rugby Park : Match Preview

07 March 2014 06:31
Kilmarnock V Hearts - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Slater vindicated by Killie move

Craig Slater claims his Scotland Under-21s debut proves switching to Kilmarnock was the right move.

The 19-year-old midfielder was handed his first run-out for Billy Stark's side in Wednesday night's 2-2 draw with Hungary.

But it comes just two years after he was forced to rip up his contract with former club St Mirren after growing disillusioned with his lack of first-team chances at the Paisley side.

He soon found a new home at Rugby Park and 17 appearances for Allan Johnston's side this season - capped off by his U21s debut - is evidence, he claims, that quitting the Buddies was the correct decision.

He said: "At that time I just tried to concentrate on working hard and believing in my own game. I felt that if I did that my chance would come.

"There were so many players out of contract at the time I left St Mirren and it was a hard time for me. But I believed in my own ability and knew I could show what I can do if I got my chance.

"So coming to Kilmarnock and getting my opportunity in the first-team was the best thing that could have happened to me. The manager has been brilliant with me and given me my chance.

"I have stayed in the team and now I have managed to make that breakthrough into the Under-21s with the national set-up.

"It was my first call-up to the 21s and it was great to test myself against really good opposition. Hopefully if I keep doing well with Kilmarnock, then there will be many more.

"It's brilliant to get the recognition by Billy Stark. It's a nice wee boost for my confidence.

"It's all happened so quick. But I am enjoying myself and playing with confidence. If you are doing that then you are going to show your best form."

Killie have now gone five games without a win and have been sucked back into the Scottish Premiership's relegation play-off fight.

Just one point separates Johnston's team, St Mirren, Partick Thistle and Ross County but Killie take on bottom-dogs Hearts on Saturday knowing the home fixture is another chance to move themselves away from the danger zone.

Slater said: "We have not played too bad recently but just haven't had the wee breaks go our way.

"It's really tight at the bottom but if we continue to play the way we have been, we can definitely move up the table and avoid the play-off spot."

Midfielder Sammy Clingan has been ruled out for six weeks.

Clingan had to pull out of the Northern Ireland squad for Wednesday's friendly with Cyprus after he was injured by St Mirren defender Sean Kelly's robust tackle last weekend.

He has now been ruled out for a month and a half, joining full-back Sean Clohessy (ankle) and Darren Barr (hip) on the absentee list.

Hearts manager Gary Locke has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip. Midfielders Callum Tapping (knee), David Smith (knee) and Jamie Walker (foot) remain out.

Gary Oliver believes that the status of being a Hearts player has helped him earn international recognition - and now he wants to claim a regular spot in the Tynecastle first team.

The striker started Wednesday's Scotland Under-19s friendly with Switzerland in the lone striker's role and scored his side's opening goal in a 4-2 win.

Despite only playing seven times for Hearts this season, Oliver feels that the club's reputation for developing young talent helped seal his inclusion in the squad.

"It's always a dream to play for your country ever since I was a wee boy," the 18-year-old said. "It was an honour and to score a goal was brilliant.

"Hearts are well known for bringing boys through the ranks so I think playing for this club helped me get into the Scotland ranks and I'm thankful for that."

Source: PA

World Cup Group G

Country W D L GD Pts
BEL 0 1 0 0 1
PAN 0 1 0 0 1
TUN 0 0 0 0 0
ENG 0 0 0 0 0