Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson admits some of his younger players are being “hindered” this season due to the size of the club’s first-team squad.
Players involved regularly last year have found themselves on the fringes and Neilson concedes that their development is suffering as a result.
Centre-back Brad McKay has not featured in any of Hearts’ last six matches since playing as a substitute against Falkirk on August 30. The 21-year-old has managed just two league outings so far this season, both from off the bench.
Midfielder Jason Holt, also 21, has started three times in the league but finds himself behind Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben and Miguel Pallardo in the queue for central midfield places. Fellow midfielder Scott Robinson is below Holt in the pecking order and has only two league appearances to his name so far.
McKay and Robinson were left out of Neilson’s 18-man matchday squad for the last three games, while Holt was an unused substitute on each occasion. All three were first-team regulars last year but 12 new arrivals over the summer have left Neilson with huge strength in depth.
Hearts’ surge to the top of the Championship, where they sit nine points ahead of second-placed Rangers, vindicates the head coach’s team selection. However, he is realistic enough to acknowledge that certain players are needing game time.
“I’m always honest with the boys. I’ve said to a couple of them that they should be playing,” Neilson told the Evening News. “I feel for them in a way because we’re hindering their development a wee bit. These guys are good players but it’s just the nature of the club at the moment that we’ve got really good players.
“We play a system that suits us and it’s difficult for some guys to get game time. To be honest, they all want to stay. They all want to fight and be part of something here so that’s pleasing.”
Some of those affected could be forced to rethink their situation if they are still on the periphery when the transfer window opens in January. Neilson said he is quite open to discussing things with any player but is not anticipating any unrest.
“If it comes to January and guys are saying they want to do this and do that then we’ll sit down and discuss it with them,” he continued. “We’ll see what’s best for the club and what’s best for the player. Hopefully we can come to an agreement.
“At the moment, I don’t foresee any problems. The guys know the situation. I speak to them every day about their individual circumstances and it’s important that we’re all here together. We had Brad McKay sitting in the stand at Alloa on Saturday. He’s a really good player and he’s here as part of a team. It’s a team effort and everyone has a part to play. They all know that.
“Your part might be 90 minutes. Your part might be two minutes. Your part might be in the changing room or on the training field during the week. Everyone’s part changes every week so it’s important we try and keep people as happy as we can. We understand it’s not going to be like that. That’s football.
“We haven’t had any loan enquiries for anyone. The issue with loans is the player can only go to a team in another division, so they couldn’t go to any Championship teams. We haven’t had any calls yet.”