Billy King believes Hearts’ intense schedule of pre-season fixtures will ensure they are in perfect condition for their Ladbrokes Premiership curtain-raiser against St Johnstone on August 2.
While some clubs have yet to begin to build their match sharpness with friendly games, the Jambos already have four matches under their belt, including a five-day tour of Dublin followed by encounters with Raith and Dumbarton this week.
Robbie Neilson will take his first-team squad to Oban today for a six-team tournament featuring XIs from Dundee United, Hamilton and their opening-day opponents from Perth. King admits that a high number of games so close together has been demanding, but is convinced he and his team-mates will feel the benefit when the competitive action gets under way.
“It’s been tough,” said the winger. “We’re a few games into pre-season playing with two teams really,” said King. “There’s a lot of young, inexperienced players too so it was always going to be tough, but the main thing is the fitness we get out of these games and we want to be peaking at the top of our game for the first match of the season – that’s the main thing.”
In years gone by, players would not see much of the ball as they prepared for a new campaign, running up and down the sand dunes at Gullane the preferred method of conditioning. With games against Preston North End and a glamour meeting with Roberto Martinez’s Everton to come, King is grateful that his manager’s approach is very much based on improving fitness levels via match situations. “Thankfully I’ve never done that [training at Gullane] before,” said King. “A few of the older boys have done it with the youth team, so I’m glad we’ve got games like the Everton one instead – that’ll be an unbelievable game. There’ll be a good atmosphere at Tynecastle with it being our first game there and the pitch is looking good as well.”
King was a creative force in Hearts’ procession to the Championship title last season, assisting 13 goals and netting nine of his own. Having begun to develop a reputation as an effective weapon for Robbie Neilson when coming off the bench, the 21-year-old is keen to claim a regular starting berth in the Premiership. “I just want to try and get as many games as I can if possible and try and get a starting place in the team,” he added. “I want to get a regular run of games and just try and kick on from last season.”