Gary Oliver has rejected the chance to rejoin Stenhousemuir on loan because he wants to fight for a new contract at Hearts.
The League One club asked to take the 19-year-old back to Ochilview after his loan there was cut short in December. However, he opted to stay and prove he deserves a new deal at Tynecastle.
His current contract expires at the end of the season and the striker is desperate to secure an extension. Talks have yet to begin but Oliver’s decision to remain with Hearts rather than return to Stenhousemuir has impressed head coach Robbie Neilson.
He told the Evening News today that Oliver can prove his worth and earn a new contract by competing with fellow forwards James Keatings, Osman Sow, Soufian El Hassnaoui, Genero Zeefuik and Dale Carrick.
“Gary went away and did well at Stehousemuir on loan and now he’s come back. This is his time to prove himself in training and in under-20 games and if he gets an opportunity in the first team,” said Neilson.
“There is a lot of competition for places in the forward line so he’s got to work hard, which he’s been doing, and prove he can play at Hearts. I think he’s doing that at the moment. He just needs to continue doing it.
“He did really well at Stenhousemuir and they were desperate to take him back there again but he wanted to stay and be part of the club for the run-in, which I’m pleased about. He wanted to come back here and try to push himself. He’s got a good chance to continue doing that.”
Hearts have left-back Adam Eckersley plus midfielders Miguel Pallardo, Jason Holt and Scott Robinson also out of contract at the end of the season. Neilson stated recently that he wants to keep Pallardo and, budgets permitting, Eckersley is also likely to be offered a new deal.
“He’s done really well, it’s just a case of what our budget is going to be for next season,” continued Neilson. “If we go up, then I’d like to think we can sit down, have a chat with Adam and see what he thinks. If he wants to stay then it’s something we’ll try and do.
“At the moment, we don’t know where we’re going to be next year. Although we have a good points lead in the league, we still need to wait to be sure of what the budget is going to be.”