Neil MacFarlane insists clubs in England will be interested in Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland during the January window.

The Scotland international has been the subject of recent transfer speculation linking him with a move to several sides including Rangers.

And MacFarlane, who played for Hearts over four years in the early 2000s, feels it is vital his old team try and hold onto the forward.

“First and foremost, he is a terrific player,” the 46-year-old Brentford B manager said. “He is an outstanding finisher. 

“They need to hold onto him because they can’t replace his goals in January which is such a tough window for any team.

“They’d find it really difficult if Shankland was to move on. He is reflective of the season they’re having - and thinking of where they want to go this season then I think they need to keep him.

“It’s amazing because he’s only 28 and playing at the peak of his career up here. I’m quite sure there will be a lot of teams sniffing about him down south and up here.

“If Hearts keep him, I think they can finish third this season. It’s so difficult to replace that amount of goals so hopefully they can keep him.

“I wouldn’t like to put a price on him, but Hearts will know they can command a good fee for him.”

MacFarlane has also been “unsurprised” at the recent run Tynecastle boss Steven Naismith has been on.

The Edinburgh club, who currently sit third in the Scottish Premiership, are unbeaten in their last five matches, including victories away to both Celtic and Hibernian.

“It’s such a big club and he has gone in there with good experience beside him as well which is always important,” he continued.

“They are enjoying a real fruitful period and hopefully they can cement their spot in third.

READ MORE: Shankland ready to fire Scotland out of Euros group, says Hendry

“This league needs a strong Hearts. It needs strong clubs from top to bottom obviously and even Dundee United down a division you’d want to see up there along with Dundee.

“But the Edinburgh clubs are huge and it’s good to see them both battling at the top end.”

MacFarlane has been in charge of the Brentford B team since 2019 after previous managerial spells at Coventry City, as caretaker boss, and Kidderminister Harriers.

Throughout his time at the Premier League side, he has witnessed plenty of quality players join and leave the club as the first team continue to thrive under Thomas Frank after their promotion to the English top-flight in 2020.

One of those is Hearts academy graduate Aaron Hickey, who arrived after a successful stint at Bologna in Serie A.

The 21-year-old, who is currently out of action with a hamstring injury, has become an integral part of both the Brentford and Scotland defence.

And MacFarlane feels he can go right to the top. “Aaron is injured just now but he is so highly thought of,” he said.

“He’s a terrific young player. A terrific full-back. First and foremost, he is a really good person who has the qualities to perform where we are at the moment, but I think he can also kick on.

“Hopefully he can come back from this injury and help us and then get himself back into the Scotland for the Euros in the summer.

“He's met every challenge, Hearts as a teen, Serie A, now in the Premier League. He meets those challenges because he is very grounded but also a terrific footballer.

"Getting into the Hearts team at just 16-years-old builds character. Then going out to Italy as a teenager shows real strength.

"We can see that at Brentford and are reaping the benefits.”

With Euro 2024 coming up in the summer, Hickey will be aiming to be part of Steve Clarke’s plans having featured at right-back regularly under the 60-year-old since making his debut against Ukraine in the ill-fated World Cup playoff of 2022.

While originally a left-back, his transition to the right-hand side at times for Brentford has allowed the player to have a run in the national team rather than competing with Kieran Tierney and Andrew Robertson on the opposite flank.

And MacFarlane insists the defender will be included in the squad for Germany if he is available.

“He has a big future in general,” he added. “We love him and think so highly of him. 

“When he comes back, he will be a major part of our team. I think Aaron has the capabilities to go on and play for a top six team in England.

“And I obviously think it will be a huge benefit if we can have him back in that Euros squad in the summer.”