Jason Holt is in no mood to relinquish his Hearts place

Jason Holt has experienced it all in the past week, scoring the opener in a 2-0 victory over Rangers, below, before losing 4-0 to Celtic in the Scottish Cup
Jason Holt has experienced it all in the past week, scoring the opener in a 2-0 victory over Rangers, below, before losing 4-0 to Celtic in the Scottish Cup
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Although his Hearts future remains unclear, midfielder Jason Holt won’t peer too far over the horizon just yet. He has just reclaimed a place in the team after two months on the substitutes’ bench and is focused only on staying there.

The rest can wait for now, with his contract about to enter its final six months.

The 21-year-old was promoted from the bench to the starting line-up against Rangers last month and marked the occasion with a sublime goal in the 2-0 win. He kept his place for Sunday’s Scottish Cup defeat by Celtic, which saw him and his colleagues crash back down to earth after the euphoria of moving nine points clear at the top of the league.

Holt knows he has a decision to make regarding his future after the New Year but, for now, he is consumed with thoughts of playing regularly for Hearts. The winter period is likely to be crucial to the Tynecastle club’s promotion bid, with fixtures against Queen of the South, Cowdenbeath, Alloa and Livingston to come before the Edinburgh derby with Hibs at Tynecastle on January 3.

Every member of Robbie Neilson’s squad is eager to be involved and Holt, a Hearts fan since childhood, is no different. “I’ve waited patiently to get back in. I managed to get a goal last week and I was over the moon with that. I played again on Sunday, although the result wasn’t great against Celtic. I’m just looking to keep doing well and keep impressing,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.

“It’s not just myself, there are a few boys who have had to be patient. That’s just football. As a player, you just want to play every week and it is frustrating when you aren’t. You just need to keep working hard and hope that you get your chance. I got mine against Rangers and you just hope to do well when that chance arrives.”

So, for the next few weeks at least, the aim is simply to stay in Neilson’s side. Morgaro Gomis is suspended for the next two matches and Holt therefore has the opportunity for an extended run in midfield. “I’m hoping to keep my place in the side. I want to turn in a few good performances and, more importantly, help the team pick up more wins,” he continued.

“When the team is winning, it’s better to come in because we’ve got the momentum and confidence is flowing. I was delighted to get back into the side and I hope to keep my place.”

Beyond that, the player is coy about what exactly the future might hold. Clubs in both Scotland and England are monitoring his situation closely ahead of the January transfer window. A move, either loan or permanent, cannot be ruled out. Holt gives nothing away when asked whether he will stay with Hearts long-term.

“I’m just taking each game as it comes. I was concentrating on getting back in the team first and foremost. I’ll try to keep my place and take it from there,” he explained. “I’ve spoken to the manager a few times and I knew I just had to keep working hard and wait for an opportunity.

“I got into the starting line-up against Rangers and grabbed a goal, which was pleasing. We’re aiming high and we want to go up so that was an important win but I think we really need to take one game at a time. That’s most important. We play Queen of the South this weekend and we hope to pick up three points again.”

That would be the best way to overcome the disappointment of Sunday’s Scottish Cup exit at the hands of Celtic. Hearts’ feelings of injustice over referee Willie Collum’s decisions remain strong after Gomis’ red card and an ill-deserved penalty award for Celtic’s second goal.

Holt is philosophical. He was as dejected as anyone in Tynecastle’s home dressing room on Sunday evening. However, Hearts’ stated priority this season is winning the league and achieving automatic promotion. Holt has not lost sight of the agenda.

“We would like to have progressed in the cup but the main aim is the league. We can concentrate on that now because we’re out of the cups,” he said.

Hearts exited the Petrofac Training Cup away to Livingston in August, while Celtic also ended their League Cup campaign the following month. Sunday’s defeat to the same opponents left a bitter taste due to refereeing decisions.

“When you go down to ten men it’s always difficult, but we worked ever so hard,” said Holt. “It’s hard when you go a goal down against Celtic but we kept going. We were unlucky and all we can do is move on to next week in the league, which is the priority. We’re looking for three points.

“Last week was a big game against Rangers in the league. It was great to be involved in it. We managed to get the three points, which we were over the moon about. Sunday was a cup tie and they are different. Our focus is the league so we’re looking forward to getting back into that on Saturday.

“We looked at the Rangers game as just another game in which we wanted three points. That’s what we’ve done every week so we want to keep the momentum going. The confidence is high.”