GARY OLIVER will stay at Hearts while head coach Robbie Neilson decides whether to send him on loan.
The 20-year-old striker has been impressive during pre-season and may be needed if Soufian El Hassnaoui’s latest injury rules him out for several weeks. The Dutchman left the field minutes before the end of Saturday’s friendly at Preston after twisting his knee. Medical staff at Riccarton will assess the problem before deciding whether to send the player for a scan. Oliver’s immediate future may depend on the outcome.
Neilson explained that any decision will be taken with Oliver’s development the main priority. He spent time on loan at Stenhousemuir last season but was recalled when Hearts suffered an injury crisis amongst their strikers during the winter. With El Hassnaoui struggling and new signing Juanma absent due to a minor groin injury, Oliver will sense the chance to impress ahead of the new season.
“Gary will stay at the moment,” Neilson told the Evening News. “I spoke to Gary a few weeks back and the plan was to put him out on loan but he’s doing really well. It’s a difficult one to balance off. If I keep him here. He gives us options but it’s whether that hinders his long-term development.
“If he’s going to stay for this season then he needs to get game time. If he isn’t going to get that, then we need to get him playing at a really good level. He should probably be playing in the Championship this year at the very least. If we can get that for him then I might look at it.
“Gary’s just keen to play football. If he was told to play for the under-20s up north at a few hours notice, he would go and do it. He just wants to play and score goals, which is great. If we ask him to do something, he’ll go and do it. It’s something we’ll look at in the next week or two.”
El Hassnaoui’s injury follows time spent on the sidelines last season with groin and ankle problems. On top of a cracked tooth, which forced him to see a dentist just hours before kick-off in Preston, he must now wait to learn the extent of his knee problem. We’ll need to take a look at it and maybe get it scanned. He’s twisted his knee,” said Neilson. “Right away he thought it was bad but he managed to get off the pitch. He cracked a molar tooth against Stirling Albion last week. He was at the dentist on Saturday morning and now he’s twisted his knee as well. Hopefully it’s not too bad. Last season was hard for him with injuries. We hoped to get a good pre-season out of him, he’s trained hard. Hopefully, this injury isn’t too much of an issue.”