Hearts coach Andy Kirk fully expects Dario Zanatta to continue his first-team involvement this season after watching the Canadian play an instrumental role in Hearts Colts’ dramatic 3-2 extra-time comeback at Formartine Utd in the Irn-Bru Cup.
The Wee Jambos trailed their Highland League opponents 2-0 at the break but Zanatta reduced the deficit early in the second half. The 19-year-old then won a penalty that Rory Currie had saved, but Zanatta equalised deep in stoppage time and compatriot Harry Paton won it with two minutes of extra-time remaining.
A broken hand suffered in a pre-season closed-doors game against Cowdenbeath cost Zanatta valuable game time and the opportunity to take part in the first team’s week-long training camp in Dublin and Belfast.
Now fit again and having enjoyed a successful loan spell at Queen’s Park last term, Kirk believes the Canadian Under-20 internationalist will be afforded further opportunities by whoever takes the top job at Tynecastle.
“I expect he’ll be involved,” said Kirk. “Time will tell, but Dario’s got fantastic ability and when he’s at it, he’s a handful. I’m looking at Dario in games like Tuesday night’s and he should be standing out. He did do – second half especially.
“There were a lot of good performances second half and it was night and day compared to the first. Extra-time, we didn’t really get our rhythm going but they’re young lads and they’re starting to tire. The mental energy and strength they needed throughout that, they carried on and totally deserved the win.”
Kirk was far from pleased with the Wee Jambos’ first half showing in Pitmedden, but acknowledged they were up against more experienced opponents in a higher intensity encounter than his players are used to in the SPFL Development League.
“Maybe the fact that it was a cup game and it was against a men’s team, we seemed to be a bit edgy and not doing the things that they usually do,” he reflected. “We were getting time on the ball but were putting it long, making poor decisions and I don’t think we competed well.
“We had a wee word with them at half-time, sorted a few things out and I thought second half we were by far the best team. There’s a lot of quality in this team – it’s just about getting them to believe in themselves to keep doing it regularly. I said after the game to them that it’s important to enjoy the moments like this, but also at this stage of their career that they learn from the first half, because it wasn’t acceptable.”
Kirk himself is enjoying taking charge while Jon Daly is on first-team duty. “I’ve been involved for a period of time, working with Jon during the week and putting the team on the pitch,” he explained. “But it’s great when you get a chance to actually lead it and do it yourself. For every coach who wants to be a manager, that’s important.
“I’m just delighted that the boys have responded. Last we week we played Stenhousemuir in a closed-doors game and they were excellent in winning the game 3-1. We’re progressing and starting to get the ideas across, so it’s great.”