After seeing several of his fellow Hearts youngsters make significant strides over the course of this challenging season, Billy King is eager to step up his own progress.
The teenage winger showed early promise when he burst on to the first-team scene with four consecutive starts under John McGlynn around a year ago, but has managed to add only another two starts this season amid a raft of substitute appearances.
At a time when many of his peers are really beginning to flourish in the first team, King is desperate to be more than just a bit-part player who comes off the bench for the last ten minutes here and there.
In order to do so, he knows he must maintain his fine form in Robbie Neilson’s Under-20 team, where he remains a standout, and then try and replicate it whenever given the opportunity by Gary Locke.
“It is frustrating, but I just need to keep playing well for the 20s and keep trying to do well when I come on for the first team,” said the winger. “Hopefully I’ll get a few more starts before the end of the season. It’s down to training well, then it’s up to the manager.”
In the early part of the season, while Jamie Walker was quick to establish himself as a regular, King and David Smith were rotated on the opposite wing as both strived to find the form and consistency required to feature regularly in the first team. Smith had started to find his feet a couple of months ago before injury struck, but King has had to look on as Under-20s team-mate Sam Nicholson has jumped ahead of him in the pecking order.
“I think Sam’s deserved his chance,” said King. “He’s done brilliant for the 20s and when he’s come on for the first team he’s done brilliant there too. He obviously deserves his starts, and he’s done really well when he’s played, so I can’t complain about that.”
Perhaps adding to King’s sense of frustration at his lack of action would be the sight of his younger brother earning a dream move to English Premier League side Swansea City. While delighted for his sibling, losing a training buddy and housemate has had little effect on Billy. Asked how things have been without Adam around, he said: “It’s been all right. I’ve got three brothers, so the house is always full.
“I don’t really notice the difference [without him]. I travelled in with him, but with other boys as well.
“I’m delighted for him getting his move. He’s enjoying it. He just moved into a flat the other week and he says it’s a good standard.”
While King has had to watch in frustration, he takes heart from the sight of his young colleagues improving with each passing week as they add experience to their talent. King is confident that, with more first-team exposure, he will enjoy a similar upturn in his own game. “The young players have improved a lot,” he said. “I think you just need to look at the recent form. We’ve played really well in the last few games and our results have been better. It’s just down to experience.”
King believes the Hearts players’ new-found confidence means they shouldn’t yet be considered relegation certainties despite being 18 points adrift at the foot of the table. “We haven’t really spoken about relegation, but it’s mathematically possible for us to stay up, and until it’s not we’ll just keep going game by game,” he said. “We just need to keep playing the way we’re playing and the results will hopefully come.
“We need to get a few wins on the board and just take it game by game. We almost got a draw against Celtic last week and they’re obviously the best team in the league by a mile. If we play like that against other teams we’ve got a very good chance of winning.”