BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
GARY HOLT concedes he is mystified that Livingston duo Liam Kelly and Craig Halkett are not being discussed for Scotland recognition.
Only Craig Gordon – who will be between the sticks for Celtic when they face the Lions today – has conceded fewer goals than ex-Rangers stopper Kelly.
However, following the withdrawal of Jon McLaughlin, national team boss Alex McLeish turned to 32-year-old Kilmarnock custodian Jamie MacDonald rather than promising youngsters such as Kelly or St Johnstone’s Zander Clark.
Holt said: “Liam [Kelly] for me deserves it and he is one for the future. He is a young lad, so get him involved. Let him see what it is like and Scotland can have a look at him too. I think there is a chance to look at players – but they haven’t done that.
“The Scotland manager’s job is much harder than mine, but it would be a wee carrot for them to show them the work they are doing is right and people are taking notice.
“Jamie MacDonald deserves his chance because he has been a standout for Kilmarnock for years. But you can take four keepers or five even. You take them and let them see what it is like. If they asked to take Liam to let them have a look at them then it wouldn’t have been a problem.
“You would like to think they are getting spoke about in the right circles and maybe one day we will see the two of them getting recognised and maybe some others too.”
Halkett, Livingston’s club captain at the age of just 23, has been similarly impressive in the Lions’ miserly back-line, and Holt has no doubt the duo have the character and quality to represent their country – even if they are forced to be patient.
Holt continued: “The fact they aren’t even being talked about surprises me. It would be nice if someone even mentioned them because they are impressing right now. People might say that is my amber specs talking, but you can’t get away from what they have done.
“Craig and Liam have the personalities to play for Scotland. They are well driven, very professional and have the desire to be the best they can be. They never rest on their laurels.
“No matter how bad they are feeling, or how we have got on at the weekend, you get an eight or nine out them every single day and you forget how young they are.”
The visit of Brendan Rodgers’ rampant champions is the perfect platform for Kelly, Halkett and every other ambitious Livingston ace in the dressing to prove their mettle in front of the TV cameras at a sold-out Tony Macaroni Arena.
Holt continued: “Performing in these games is how you get praise. You get highlighted and talked about because of the bigger games. People say, ‘can he do it at this level, push himself and be brave’.
“What a chance it is to showcase our talents and make it difficult for them.”
Celtic arrive in West Lothian on the back of seven consecutive domestic victories, scoring 25 goals in the process. An ominous proposition for a Livingston side that have lost their last two Premiership matches 1-0.
But Holt, who readily admits he was technically outclassed at times as a player, will order his modestly-assembled squad to be fearless in the face of the Bhoys’ embarrassment of riches.
He added: “I knew I wasn’t the most gifted or technical player, but I worked the hardest. I would go toe-to-toe and tell my opponent he wouldn’t outwork me. If I got beat after that then fine, I gave it my best.
“I have been up against some exceptional talents who made me look below average. I learned from those times, even though it left a sour taste in my mouth. That is why you have to learn. But you still need to be brave and work as hard as you possibly can.
“On Sunday: Edouard, Rogic, McGregor, Forrest, Sinclair and Christie – you can keep going. Facing these guys is a test for all of our players, not just the defenders. But if we turn up and think, ‘God look at their players’, we will get battered.
“Instead, we’ll say ‘right big man, do you fancy this today?’ then it becomes a battle. You might win it or lose it – but it is about being brave and bold. When we have done that we have got results and this game is no different just because it is Celtic.”