Liam Smith insists he is ready to cement a place in Hearts’ starting line-up and won’t wait until Callum Paterson leaves. The 20-year-old is expected to play his second successive game in defence tonight when Hearts visit Hamilton.
Admitting this is an important campaign for his development, Smith explained that learning his trade on loan has fully prepared him for life in the Ladbrokes Premiership. He recently spent a month at Raith Rovers but learned most from his nine-month spell at East Fife two seasons ago.
He now feels mature enough to hold down a place at Hearts, even though Paterson may not leave the club until his contract expires in May.
“I think I need to try to cement my place in the team. It’s a big season for me,” said Smith. “People are talking about Callum maybe moving on and things like that but I can’t really look at that myself.
“I need to look at what I’m doing and to continue to work hard to show I can play in the team whether he’s there or not.”
Smith played left-back for Hearts’ last match before the international break – a 2-2 draw at home to St Johnstone. He was selected ahead of the Moroccan internationalist Faycal Rherras, who sat on the substitutes’ bench.
Smith is likely to continue at left-back tonight against Hamilton. “All these things are positives. I am happy to play in the team and if I’m in there I am happy to play anywhere,” he said.
“Even at a young age, I did it [covered at left-back] so, while obviously I’m a lot more comfortable on the right-hand side, if I have to do a job on the left then I have no problem with it.”
He added that he would recommend a loan move to any young player seeking to make a first-team breakthrough.
“There is no doubt about it, it helped me kick on. If anybody was going to do it then I would 100 per cent recommend it.
“The manager suggested it but in my head I knew I was at the stage where I needed to go and play games instead of playing in the under-20s. I didn’t need any convincing, I was quite happy to go and do it.
“It was massive for me. The under-20s is sometimes just a bit nice. It’s you have the ball then we have the ball. Going to League Two, there is a lot more rough and tumble and boys are playing for bonuses to try to feed their kids and things like that.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. As a young player who is reaching the stage where the under-20s is a bit comfortable, then going on loan to one of the lower leagues would be a massive thing for them.”