AFTER impressing against Inverness on Saturday, Hearts teenagers Sam Nicholson and Gary Oliver were today told by manager Gary Locke to expect more regular game time.
Both players stood out in the 2-0 defeat at Tynecastle and Locke has admitted he will use them over the Christmas period. Nicholson, a winger, made his first senior start in the match, whilst striker Oliver started a league game for the first time. Both are 18 and managed to show their attacking capabilities despite Inverness winning 2-0 through a Billy McKay double.
Locke explained that injuries within Hearts’ threadbare squad will mean more exposure for the likes of Nicholson and Oliver. Hearts were today awaiting news on the Achilles injury which forced winger Jamie Walker off at half-time on Saturday. Ryan Stevenson and Jason Holt will be missing for several weeks.
“The way the squad is at the moment, the likes of Nicholson and Oliver are going to be heavily involved,” Locke told the Evening News. “I started them at the weekend on merit because they’ve done well in the under-20s. I thought they deserved their opportunity. I thought they both acquitted themselves well against a physical side.
“It’s a paper-thin squad so, if you’re doing well with the under-20s, you’re going to have a chance of playing. The fact that Jason Holt and Ryan Stevenson are out, plus the blow of losing Jamie Walker on Saturday, it’s an opportunity for even younger players and it’s important they take their chance.
“I thought we competed fairly well against a decent Inverness side. There wasn’t a lot in the game and there weren’t a lot of chances at either end. Looking at the game, it was probably going to finish 0-0. I think the difference between the two teams was Inverness have a striker who, if you give him an opportunity, will take it.
“I thought our midfield coped well. Callum Tapping and Scott Robinson competed very well but taking Jamie Hamill out of there to play him at right-back leaves us a bit inexperienced in that department. We can’t have everything and we needed to tighten up a bit at the back. I thought we defended well enough but two moments of brilliance from Billy McKay have won the game for Inverness.”
On Walker’s injury, Locke added: “He’s got an Achilles problem and we’re hoping it’s not too serious. He’s a player we don’t want to be missing.”