THE Scottish Premier League have lifted Hearts’ transfer embargo, however restrictions remain in place and that hardly makes manager’s John McGlynn’s task any easier for tomorrow’s visit to Celtic Park.
He can sign a new player but only after selling or releasing an existing squad member. Any new arrival must be an under-21 and earn less than his predecessor. It’s little wonder McGlynn is focusing purely on those already available, and even then he is short on options.
Hearts will be severely depleted tomorrow as the depth of their small squad is stretched more than a raggy old sock. “Scott Robinson is out, Mehdi Taouil isn’t out but is struggling, Marius Zaliukas and Ryan Stevenson are both suspended,” explained McGlynn. “It will probably be one of the youngest Hearts teams which has ever gone out. We lost half a squad in the summer. We’ve lost [David] Templeton and we’ve lost [Ryan] McGowan. Until someone grabs a baseball bat and starts smashing me over the head I’ll carry on fighting with what we’ve got, irrespective of anything. Younger players will go in, then the next one, next one, next one. That’s how it will go.”
Thankfully, the youth academy graduates McGlynn is promoting are both talented and reliable. None more so than Dylan McGowan, who is certain to start only his sixth match for Hearts in the hostile surroundings of Celtic Park. It is anticipated that the 21-year-old will become a central figure during the second half of the season, particularly if Hearts sell any more defenders after agreeing a deal to transfer his brother, Ryan, to China.
“Dylan has played his part, and played it very well,” said McGlynn. “He played centre-back against Hibs at the start of the month and was excellent. Guys like Dylan will play a much more prominent part in the second half of the season. He’s been patient, watching games, playing parts of games and picking up experience. Now he will need to take the field on a much more consistent and regular basis.”
McGowan will start at centre-back tomorrow alongside Andy Webster, who has recovered from the flu bug which stopped him facing Hibs. However, the Australian’s versatility appeals to McGlynn as much as any of his other qualities. “I love these players, the guys who can play three or four different positions,” continued the manager. “When you’ve got a tight squad, then that’s exactly what you need – players who can play a few different positions so you can swap them about. There’s no mumping and moaning or anything like that, they just get on with it. It’s ideal. I’m used to working with players like that.
“I had Grant Murray at Raith Rovers, who was brilliant in that sense. You could play him right-back, you could play him centre-back or you could play him centre midfield. He was a great type to have in the squad. You can’t have enough of that type of player.
“Dylan is like that. He can play centre-back, centre midfield or right-back . . . hopefully he’ll turn out to be as good as Ryan.”
The potential is certainly there but blunting the lethal instincts of Celtic’s Gary Hooper tomorrow will doubtless be the biggest test to date for young McGowan. Holding his own would further strengthen his case for a new contract, with his current deal due to expire at the end of the season. McGlynn does not expect the Hearts board to let him leave.
“Everyone at Hearts wants our good young talent to stay here. I don’t think we need to sell young talent, that’s not the case. We want to hold on to our best youngsters and let them get more experience and continue developing here.
They can get better and better and, when the right time comes, they can move on like Christophe Berra did, like Eggert Jonsson did and like Craig Gordon did. That’s how I would see things developing.”
Hearts have to remain financially prudent until the summer, when they are expected to release many of their high-earning players. Taking their places will be some of the academy graduates who already populate the squad. By then, they are likely to be well versed with the demands of senior football in the SPL.
McGlynn is determined to continue their development and will not flinch at throwing them into an intimidating cauldron like Parkhead.
“Andy Webster missed the Hibs game because he had the flu so he’s back for tomorrow,” he said.
“He’s done all the training so, barring any hitches, he will play against Celtic. It’s very important to have him back with Marius suspended. It’s a like-for-like change so we shouldn’t need to tamper too much with the back four that played against Hibs. Obviously we need to move the midfield about a bit with Ryan Stevenson suspended and Scott Robinson injured as a result of that lunge from James McPake in the derby.
“There will be a few openings for others to come in.
“This is the challenge for the young players here. The team has been fairly consistent with not an awful lot of changes week to week.
“There have been a few in and outs but generally there has been a nucleus of the same players playing.
“The others have been waiting patiently in the under-20 team or coming off the bench and playing parts of matches.
“Now they’re going to have to play a big part. Any young player at any football club just wants that opportunity.
“Ours are going to get that opportunity and it’s up to them now to step up to the plate and take their chance.
“They’ve never let us down yet.”