Zander Clark admits even he is slightly surprised at how quickly he has taken to life as Hearts goalkeeper after his impressive start to his Tynecastle career was capped by a recall to the Scotland squad.
The 30-year-old joined the Jambos as a free agent last September after leaving St Johnstone, but he spent a lengthy period on the sidelines as Craig Gordon – also the national team’s number one – commanded the gloves for the Jambos.
Clark eventually got his chance in late December after Gordon suffered a horror double leg break on Christmas Eve. His excellent form over the past three months has helped him land a call-up to Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad – his first since last June – for this month’s Euro 2024 qualifiers at home to Cyprus and Spain.
“I like to think I’ve done quite well since I’ve got in, which has probably been a surprise considering I had six months between competitive games,” he said, reflecting on his return to prominence.
“I’m probably a wee bit surprised as well. Listen, I always back myself to do well regardless but you’ve always got that fear of being rusty or whatever.
“We had a couple of bounce games when we were away in Spain during the World Cup break and that sort of blew off the cobwebs in terms of finding your bearings – as daft as it sounds – round about the goal.
“To then get flung in, you need to step up to the mark and with the coaching and standard of training here, where you need to be bang at it every day, that helped massively.”
After veteran trio Gordon, David Marshall and Allan McGregor dominated the Scotland number one jersey for much of the past two decades, Clark – who remains uncapped – believes the door is open for he, Angus Gunn and Liam Kelly to try and make their presence felt.
“I was delighted to see my name in that pool of players,” he said of his call-up. “A target I set myself when I joined Hearts was to play enough games to give the (Scotland) manager food for thought. I’ve played a heck of a lot more games than what was anticipated.
“For the last however many years, it’s been one of the three (Gordon, McGregor and Marshall). Other boys have picked up caps in friendlies but you feel that if Craig was still fit he’d still be number one.
“But with Craigy not being there, the door is open for one of the three of us to go in and really stake a claim to play for our country. That will really come to the forefront of my mind when I meet up with the squad after the Aberdeen game.”
Clark is hoping to cap by a positive week by helping Hearts reassert themselves in the battle for third place in the cinch Premiership with victory away to Aberdeen following their back-to-back defeats against Celtic.
“It would be another massive achievement for the club to get into Europe,” said the keeper. “Obviously the fans love their European away days and Tynecastle was rocking as well when we had them, so that’s something as players we want to push towards.
“Those experiences are different class. It’s a different level, so we want to keep churning out performances and results to try and secure that.”