The performances of several young Hearts players in pre-season have forced head coach Robbie Neilson to rethink plans to send them out on loan.
Neilson admitted today that he will probably keep most of the kids in question due to their application in matches this summer.
Gary Oliver has made the biggest impression of the young fringe players who are fighting to stake a claim for a first-team place. The 19-year-old striker scored four times in pre-season friendlies and now has a genuine chance of starting Sunday’s opening SPFL Championship match against Rangers at Ibrox.
Neilson explained that Oliver’s displays and those of others have forced him into a change of plan. “Gary’s been great. I’m really, really pleased with him so far. I considered putting a few of them out on loan before pre-season started but a lot of them have given me a dilemma,” he told the Evening News. “They’ve done so well that we’ll probably end up keeping them here because they give us different options.
“The ones who are fit all have a chance of playing at Ibrox. We have guys who can do different things really well. Up front, Gary comes in and links the play, Osman Sow is strong and physical, we still have Soufian El Hassnaoui to come back, then there’s James Keatings, who is a penalty-box player, and Dale Carrick, who makes energetic runs and works the channels for us. We’ve got some really good options.”
A 4-0 win over Premiership club St Johnstone last weekend boosted Hearts’ confidence levels for the trip to Ibrox. Neilson, though, cautioned that pre-season results may be no indicator of how ready his players are to face Rangers in a competitive environment. “You never really know until you’re there. When the game starts, then you see where you are,” he said.
“It’s not until you’re in competitive games that you can measure these things. Against Annan the other week I thought we were on it so I hope we can continue to build on the progress.
“We want to show what we’re about on Sunday and try to pass the ball with a bit of intensity and pace. We need to use our assets. I think the boys are feeling good mentally. It was good going up to Perth on Sunday and winning convincingly and playing really well. That gives them a confidence boost. However, Ibrox is a difficult environment to go into. We know what it’s like.”
Hearts have sold out their full ticket allocation for Ibrox and will be backed by 1700 away fans on Sunday.