THE three of Hearts provided Raith Rovers manager John McGlynn with a winning hand on Saturday. Jason Holt, David Smith and Jamie Walker were instrumental in a 3-2 win over Hamilton which ended Raith’s four-game losing streak.
McGlynn is no gambler but, with these three aces up his sleeve, acknowledges his pack is now formidable.
Holt, Smith and Walker signed loan agreements with the Fife club last week as something of a prerequisite to first-team promotion at Hearts. The teenage triumvirate began their careers at Stark’s Park with such a bang that it could have been heard right across the River Forth to Tynecastle.
In truth, they ran Hamilton ragged. Holt and Smith both scored and Walker was a constant menace, claiming an assist for the other goal which was converted by another on-loan Hearts player, the Ukrainian midfielder Denis Prychynenko. Darren Murray, Hearts’ under-19 coach, recently declared that these kids had outgrown youth football and needed senior experience to prosper. That man is worth listening to.
Raith’s result also justified McGlynn’s decision to introduce the youngsters just days after they left the cosy confines of Riccarton. The new recruits took to the First Division like ducks to water, and few would bet against them hoisting Raith up the table before their loans expire in January. “We hadn’t scored for four games before Saturday, then we win and score three in the process. You have to put a lot of that down to these guys coming in,” McGlynn told the Evening News. “They give us something we didn’t have and bring a freshness to our play. We might have won on Saturday had we kept the same team as the previous weekend, who knows? The facts are we changed it round, we did win and we scored three goals.
“They are different from the players we have because they offer something different on the field. They are all comfortable taking the ball and running at defenders with pace, then getting shots in or delivering crosses. We’ve been a wee bit shot-shy recently, not getting as many crosses in as both David and Jamie produce. Jason is the type of player who will support the striker playing off the front. He’s difficult to mark despite Hamilton trying to man-mark him on Saturday. He still caused them problems.
“It’s a big feather in the caps of the lads themselves and the youth coaching staff at Hearts that they played so well. Darren Murray was in the ground on Saturday watching and he would be very proud at how the boys went about their business. You can tell they’ve been very well coached. Plus they are good types of boys with good attitudes who have been well looked after.
“They’ve settled in very quickly, and that’s a compliment to our players for taking to them straight away. They’ve been welcomed with open arms at Stark’s Park and the Hearts boys have responded to that. They’ve enjoyed it so far and, in football, everyone enjoys winning matches. They would certainly have enjoyed it on Saturday having played a big part in it.”
McGlynn even adapted his system slightly to accommodate the Hearts youngsters. “We played a 4-2-3-1 formation, with David Smith wide on the right and Jamie wide on the left,” he explained. “Jason was in the middle of those two as an attacking midfielder supporting our striker, John Baird. He was getting beyond John and linking midfield to attack. Denis played in one of the two defensive midfield roles.
“Jason got himself into a good position to score because he cashed in on a low driven cross which the Hamilton goalkeeper didn’t deal with. The ball went beyond the goalkeeper and fell on the line and we had two players waiting. Allan Walker slid in but Jason was there to put the ball over the line from about a yard out.
“The second goal was a good move involving a number of players. Jamie Walker was involved and John Baird played a ball across the face of goal, again beyond the goalkeeper. It was probably flying wide when Denis managed to force it in from close range. That put us 2-1 up.
“The third was an individual piece of skill. David Smith picked the ball up just inside the Hamilton half and ran with it. He ventured inside and kept running with it and, when he was central to the goal, hit a shot with his left foot which flew away from the goalkeeper and into the corner of the net. That gave us a 3-1 lead and, as it turned out, we needed that cushion. Hamilton got a goal back near the end and our keeper saved a penalty as well. It was an action-packed start for the new lads, and Denis as well.”
Saturday demonstrated McGlynn’s single-minded approach to management, something which is likely to help the Tynecastle teenagers prosper. He has no qualms about overlooking players of his own in favour of hungry young loanees. “Of course it can be difficult but, at the end of the day, I’m a football manager who has to get results. It’s a results-driven business. The offer of these players came up and we felt they were something we didn’t have. We thought they could enhance our team.
“By hook or by crook or by whatever means, we needed to score goals because we weren’t winning games. There were guys left out on Saturday who might now be saying ‘I’ll need to do a bit better because the team hasn’t been winning while I’ve been in it’. It’s up to them to get the finger out and show what they can do.
“If bringing these boys in gives the team a lift and we get confidence from winning football matches like we did on Saturday, then I’ve no problem doing it. We want to build on that win, albeit we have a very difficult game away at Ross County this weekend. But that’s great for these young players to go into a situation where you’re playing the league-leaders away from home. Whether the lads stay with us or don’t stay with us after January, we can hopefuly be more confident when they move on.”
McGlynn doesn’t have carte blanche to do as he pleases with the Hearts players and finds himself, to some degree, at the mercy of their parent club when it comes to training arrangements. However, it’s a situation he gladly accepts in order to have them available at weekends.
“Denis trains with Hearts on a Monday and a Wednesday, and trains with us Tuesday, Thursday and Friday,” said McGlynn. “Jason and David basically train with us full-time, but last week the Hearts manager wanted them for the Thursday so they trained down there. I don’t know if that’s going to be a regular thing or not.
“Jamie Walker isn’t long back from injury and the physios at Hearts don’t want him training on astroturf. We have to train on astroturf more or less all the time because the grass parks we use are all in bad condition and too heavy now due to the weather. Because of that, Jamie is only going to train with us on a Friday morning.
“The times they do train with us are beneficial, even down to the travelling. David Smith comes from Cumbernauld and travels through with John Baird, Willie Dyer and Brian Graham. They are our Glasgow-based players. Jason Holt lives in Musselburgh so he’s been travelling through with guys like Grant Murray, Allan Walker and Laurie Ellis, who all come from the east. Those journeys can make the boys feel part of it.” They are too young to remember Roy of the Rovers, but the Hearts teenagers are already thriving as boys of the Rovers. The quick adjustment to senior football augurs well for the future of all concerned.