ROBBIE NEILSON stressed today that he has no qualms over starting the new season with 17-year-old Sean McKirdy in the Hearts midfield.
The head coach feels McKirdy’s temperament and ability have shone through pre-season and he is in prime position to start tonight’s League Cup first-round tie against Arbroath.
With Miguel Pallardo injured and Prince Buaben lacking match fitness, McKirdy could also face St Johnstone in Sunday’s opening league match. He played in Hearts’ last two pre-season friendlies against Preston North End and Everton and didn’t look out of place. Neilson said he is happy to give the teenager a chance in his starting line-up.
“I have no fears about pitching Sean in, not at all,” Neilson told the Evening News. “He played against Everton last weekend and was up against Gareth Barry, James McCarthy and Leon Osman. These are multi-million-pound players and I thought he handled himself really well.
“It is a big chance for Sean. I’ve been really pleased with him. He’s a player we’ve had high hopes for coming through the academy for years and he’s really coming on well. He still has a long way to go in his development. To play in the games he has, and do so well, is testament to himself and his family. He’s a level-headed kid and we’re really pleased with where he is.
“He’s got good players round about him to help him, like Morgaro Gomis and Alim Ozturk and the rest of them. They all help him. The ethos of the club is that older players are here to perform, but also to help the young boys develop. They’re certainly doing that.”
Buaben is available for tonight’s cup tie but may not be risked. A hamstring strain sidelined the Ghanaian earlier this month and he could benefit from an extra rest before the St Johnstone match.
“Prince will be there or thereabouts. I’d expect him back for Sunday,” continued Neilson. “He’s been training for the last few days but I don’t want to rush him. We brought him back and he had a wee bit of a setback and I don’t want that to happen again.”