WINGER David Smith is a major doubt for Hearts’ League Cup tie with Queen of the South tonight due to a calf injury sustained in training.
Billy King is poised to deputise on the right wing, although 18-year-olds Sam Nicholson and Gary Oliver are in contention to feature at some stage. Smith injured his calf in a training session on Monday and is unlikely to be risked this evening. King is the most experienced replacement despite being just 19. Manager Gary Locke and his assistant Billy Brown have been impressed by younger academy graduates Nicholson and Oliver in recent weeks and won’t hesitate to use them if the opportunity arises against the Championship club.
“David got a knock on his calf at training on Monday and he’s doubtful,” said Brown. “We’ve got other lads there who can come in, although they’re getting younger and younger. They are all up for the cause.
“Sam came on at the weekend and Gary has figured in one or two games. David has a knock so we have to decide who is going to play there. These lads are in our thoughts all the time. While we want to win tonight’s game, they may come into consideration. We have a big game on Saturday against Dundee United but this is a big game tonight and these boys are in and around things.”
Brown stressed that morale remains good at Riccarton despite three successive defeats for Hearts against Inverness, Celtic and Ross County. “I know people look at things and realise we’ve had three straight defeats but there’s no doom and gloom,” he added. “One of the defeats was at Inverness, who are top of the league, and another was against Celtic. Saturday was a kick in the teeth at Ross County but we’re not feeling down. We’re up for the cause tonight and, if we need to put younger players in, we’re not scared to do that either.”
Brown is eager to win the competition for the supporters who have kept the Edinburgh club alive recently. He admitted that even silverware may not be just reward for their efforts.
“It would be great if we could go further, get to the final and have a chance of winning it. It would be fitting for the supporters. Whether the fans can ever be rewarded for what they’ve done, I don’t know. It’s difficult to play two games a week but we want to do well in the League Cup. It’s a long time since Hearts lifted that trophy but they have to win it some time.”
Hearts lost last season’s League Cup final against St Mirren and those still at the club have not forgotten the disappointment. “A lot of players have left but everybody who is still here would like to go and win it,” said Brown. “Winning any trophy would be fantastic but it’s never easy to win a cup. There are a lot of hard games to come and our resources might be stretched. It looks as if suspensions will kick in shortly with the way things are going but it would be great to go far in the League Cup.”