Robbie Neilson today told Gary Oliver not to lose faith as he fights for game time with an array of more experienced Hearts strikers.
The head coach believes Oliver, 19, could potentially become the club’s first-choice centre-forward in years to come and advised him to stay patient.
Oliver returned from a loan spell at Stenhousemuir last month hoping to make an impression with the Scottish Championship leaders. However, he finds more reputable forwards like Osman Sow, James Keatings and recent loan signing Genero Zeefuik ahead of him in the queue for a starting place. Dale Carrick and Soufian El Hassnaoui are also due to return from injury, making competition even more fierce.
Neilson stressed that Oliver should not become despondent about the situation. There are no plans to send him back out on loan. Instead, Hearts intend to work on his development at Riccarton. Neilson believes the youngster will eventually establish himself as the club’s No.9 if he works hard enough on his game.
“I think he’s got the attributes for that,” said Neilson “The physicality and the game knowledge has still to get there but it will come because he’s keen and he wants to do well for himself. If he develops the way we want him to, then I definitely see him as a Hearts No.9. Gary will be one for the future for us.
“He is still a young player who is developing. He’s a very good player. I see him as somebody who probably needs another year or two to develop into the player he’s going to be. He was at Stenhousemuir and did really well. I think he proved he’s ahead of that level.
“We’ve brought him back but he knows he’s not going to play week in and week out. He has to prove himself in training every day and, when he does get an opportunity, try to do well.
“Gary will stay with us until the end of the season. Rules are that he can only play for us or Stenhousemuir until the summer and he’s not going to go back to Stenhousemuir. He’s done his bit there. He proved he can play at that level and be one of the main players there, so it’s up to him to prove himself here.”