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25 of 027 Marius Zaliukas 18 ;Andrew Driver 58 L SPL A

Scots call gives Hearts kid Elliot rare chance to shine

CALUM ELLIOT will make only his second competitive appearance of the season tomorrow evening when Scotland Under-21s welcome their Slovenian counterparts to Falkirk.

It's the first week of September, and his only other outing also came on international duty in Marijampole, Lithuania, last month.

The situation certainly rankles with the Hearts striker, irked by his lack of game time thus far. Protracted loan negotiations at club level only concluded last week when he joined Livingston until January, but frustration lingered as he remained an unused substitute during last Saturday's defeat of Dunfermline.

It's fully nine weeks since Elliot resumed pre-season training with Hearts, yet he hasn't made a single club appearance.

The Tynecastle hierarchy reduced him to a spectator while finalising his loan, which seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. In the last two months only a substitute outing against Glentoran and a reserve match have prepared him for the physical demands of a full Scottish season.

It's understandable, then, that he's itching to properly ignite his campaign tomorrow at the Falkirk Stadium, ironically where he last appeared for Hearts back on May 5.

"This will really be like my first game so naturally I'm looking forward to it. I'm just desperate to get involved," Elliot told the Evening News.

"A friendly and a reserve game are all I've had with Hearts.

"I've just tried to work as hard as possible in training to make sure I can be ready but it's difficult. It's going to take a couple of weeks to get to a good level of fitness.

"Hopefully now I can get back to playing football again, starting tomorrow night. Most of the boys with the Scotland 21s have played five or six games so it's hard. I haven't played any games, though, so I might be a bit fresher. It can work both ways."

As his inactivity continued through the summer and into the early weeks of the new season, Elliot began to wonder if his Under-21 place would be affected. Coach Billy Stark has maintained faith in the player throughout a difficult period by including him for the Slovenia match and the forthcoming trip to Denmark.

"I was waiting and waiting and, although I tried to play it by ear, obviously you do worry," he said.

"You maybe don't expect to be in the squad but then it's a bonus when you are. It's been great to be involved this week.

"We're out to win both games and qualify for the European Championship play-offs. I enjoy being away and I look forward to playing for Scotland. It would be a great experience to qualify for the finals."

Thereafter, there's the small matter of a promotion tilt to be getting on with in West Lothian. If Elliot supplements the talents of Leigh Griffiths to help Livingston remain top of the First Division, he can anticipate returning to Riccarton in buoyant mood come January.

"I want to go back to Hearts and be playing at the level I know I can play at," he continued. "That's the main aim of me going on loan.

"I needed a fresh start to get away from the place. This is an ideal opportunity to do that. I have to do well for Livingston and get playing regularly.

"There are a lot of good boys there and they've made me feel really welcome. That has helped but I just want to get started. They're absolutely flying in the league so you have to go in there and help them continue what they've been doing.

"I hope to do that when I get on the pitch.

"It's a new start, playing somewhere else and getting back to enjoying it. I'm with a team that's doing well and one of my aims was to go there and help them get promotion. I think that can be achieved."

Getting on the playing pitch, whether for club or country, is the foremost task facing Elliot, who has had his fill of being a football bystander.

Taken from the Scotsman

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