HEARTS manager Gary Locke will choose between Jamie Walker and Billy King tonight when deciding who takes Ryan Stevenson’s starting place against Partick Thistle.
Stevenson will be absent for eight to 12 weeks with knee ligament damage sustained in the Edinburgh derby win over Hibs. Walker, 20, is most likely to be selected in the left midfield position this evening having replaced Stevenson on Sunday when the injury forced him off after 13 minutes.
He has more first-team experience than 19-year-old King but Locke was due to make a final decision on the matter this afternoon before Hearts head west to Firhill.
“Jamie and Billy are doing well. It will be a toss-up between those two,” he told the Evening News. “We’re disappointed to lose Ryan, who is a really influential player for us, but he is going to have a lay-off so it’s a chance for one of these guys to stake a claim for a place in the starting line-up.”
All six Hearts players involved with the Scotland Under-21 squad returned unscathed after Tuesday night’s 6-0 defeat by England at Bramall Lane. Locke stressed that Brad McKay, Kevin McHattie, Jason Holt, David Smith, Jack Hamilton and Walker must overcome that disappointment and refocus on club business as Hearts attempt to cut their 12-point deficit at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership.
“Everybody at the club has been quite chirpy this week after beating Hibs and that’s the kind of environment we all love,” said the manager. “It only comes from winning games so, if we can try to get another positive result tonight, hopefully the confidence will stay high.
“I think the Scotland Under-21 boys will be fine. In football, you need to take the highs with the lows. They came off a massive result on Sunday and were brought back down to earth on Tuesday. That’s football. I’ve experienced many of them myself. When everything’s going well for you, football has a habit of knocking you.
“I’m sure the boys will be okay, although it was a disappointing result. We have to move on now. This is another important game for us tonight and it’s a chance for those players to get back out on the pitch.”
Thistle have opened their first campaign in the top flight impressively, securing a draw against Dundee United and a win away to Ross County. Locke said he has watched them closely.
“I’ve studied them as much as I can and looked at their strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure they’ll do the same with us. I spent a lot of time on them this week but my biggest frustration is I haven’t had the time to work with the players because many of them haven’t been here.
“I’d have liked our preparation to be a lot better but a lot of our lads have been on international duty. I only had yesterday to cram everything in. We wanted to get a fair bit of work done but you need to look after the boys as well. Some of them played Sunday and Tuesday and will again tonight, so it’s important you get the balance right.”