HEARTS will carry a senior squad of no more than 20 players for their return to the Scottish Premiership.
Thereafter, head coach Robbie Neilson will look to utilise youngsters emerging from the Riccarton youth academy. Four to five new signings are planned to supplement Hearts’ squad ahead of next season with Danny Wilson, Brad McKay, Adam Eckersley, Jason Holt, Scott Robinson and Genero Zeefuik all gone. Neilson does not want to block the pathway for academy kids, though.
He will rotate his squad more and change the team depending on the opposition to allow more players game time. He explained the process of assembling a 20-man squad backed up by promising youths to ensure Hearts are ready for the top flight.
“I think we will need to utilise the squad more next year,” Neilson told the Evening News. “We will pick certain teams for certain games. I’m not going to have a huge squad in terms of numbers but I want quality throughout the whole squad if I can. It’s about getting the right ones in. At the very most, we’d be looking at a squad of about 20, supplemented by some of our younger players.”
Defenders like Kevin McHattie and Jordan McGhee, who found game time limited last season, have been told they can still command a regular first-team place. Hearts intend to recruit a new centre-back and left-back this summer but Neilson insists McHattie and McGhee can still play a big part.
Injury severely hindered 21-year-old McHattie this season and he found himself playing second fiddle to Eckersley once he recovered from damaged knee ligaments. McGhee, 18, was used mainly at right-back rather than his preferred central defensive berth and made only four senior appearances since the turn of the year.
Neilson stressed that both players can establish themselves in the side next season. “Guys like that are still part of the squad and have a big future at the club. Nobody is going to play 35 or 40 games next season,” he continued.
“Boys will come in and out, which is part of being in a squad. Everyone will come back for pre-season training and give us competition for places. For the likes of McGhee and McHattie, they need to try and get a place in the team and then try to keep hold of it.”