BILLY KING hesitates when asked why he has started just two league matches for Hearts this season. His talent is undeniable, both on the right flank and left, but the 19-year-old has flattered to deceive in a campaign when teenagers are rising to the fore at Tynecastle.
Overloading on youth is down to circumstances rather than choice. Hearts are in administration and can’t register new players, and King knows a unique opportunity is still his for the taking.
He pauses as a pensive look etches itself across his face. His conclusion is he must make more of an impact at senior level to merit a starting slot. King is a regular at under-20 level for Hearts but hitherto has not managed to transfer youth-team form to the first team. Three starts – one in the League Cup – and 12 substitute appearances are the sum total of his campaign thus far. He is far from satisfied.
His position is the one in which Hearts have an abundance of talent. Jamie Walker, David Smith, Callum Paterson and Sam Nicholson are all able to play on the flanks and there is much jostling being done by all of the above. That hinders anyone trying to force their way in, as King has discovered. A two-footed winger with pace, skill, crossing ability and an eye for goal, he has many of the attributes the modern footballer requires. He is every inch the youngster with great potential but is now searching for the right way to fulfil it.
“I thought I started the season well and I’ve just kind of fallen away a bit,” he tells the Evening News. “I’ve not been doing as well as I was back at the start. I want to try and find that form again and keep playing well for the under-20s. Then, hopefully, I’ll get a start in the first team soon. Obviously, it’s everyone’s aim to be in the starting line-up. If I keep playing well at under-20 level then maybe I can get a start soon.
“I think it’s just a matter of working hard to create chances for the team. Also, scoring goals is important. I think that’s what we need at the moment. There aren’t very many goals in our team right now and I’m an attacking player. That’s what everyone looks for from an attacking player so I need to produce some chances and goals.
“There are a lot of good wingers at the club already. Wee Sam started on Saturday against Inverness and did very well. There’s Div (Smith) and Jamie as well, so there isn’t a shortage of players in my position. It’s good competition for everyone.”
King’s own difficulties trying to establish himself pale in comparison to the troubles faced by his club right now. Hearts are 14 points adrift in the Scottish Premiership and fighting against relegation. A trip to Celtic Park looms on the horizon this weekend following Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Inverness.
“Obviously it’s tough for the club as a whole – the coaching staff, the supporters and even the experienced players,” explains King. “We’ve just got to stick together and get back on track. We need a few points on the board. It’s hard coming in and getting beaten every week but we just need to keep the heads up and hope we get a break soon.
“It’s difficult when you’re losing every week but the gaffer helps us deal with it well. He just tells us to keep the heads up and training during the week is always upbeat. We knew it was going to be very difficult this season. We just need to keep focused and hopefully our luck will change sooner rather than later.”
King stresses there is nothing to fear for those entrusted with guiding Hearts to safety. “Most of the younger guys at Hearts have played for a number of months now and have played lots of first-team games. They know what it’s about and they know what’s at stake. We’re aware of what we have to do. It’s a matter of getting that break when we need it. There was nothing in that game on Saturday apart from the two chances Billy McKay took. On another day, those chances would have fallen to us.
“After last time against Celtic, when they beat us 7-0 at Tynecastle, we need to go on and put in a better performance to show the fans we want to play for the club. Celtic are obviously a top side and were flying when we played them in the Scottish Cup. We need to look at them, look at the video analysis, see how and why we conceded goals and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.”