Sam Nicholson in Hearts’ first team frame

Sam Nicholson pictured in pre-season against Queen of the South. Picture: SNS

Sam Nicholson pictured in pre-season against Queen of the South. Picture: SNS

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HEARTS kid Sam Nicholson has been told to brace himself for more prominent first-team involvement on the back of his stunning form for the Under-20s.

The 18-year-old has been on the first-team bench for each of the last five league games and got on for a 16-minute debut cameo in the defeat at Inverness three weeks ago.

Gary Locke was at Newtongrange on Tuesday night to see Nicholson produce a magnificent display against Hibs in the Under-20 derby.

As the manager prepared his side for tomorrow’s Scottish Premiership match with Ross County in Dingwall, he admitted that Nicholson, a boyhood Hearts fan from Penicuik, is now effectively vying with the likes of David Smith and Billy King for a wide berth.

“Sam’s been in my thoughts for a while now,” said Locke. “He’s been on the bench in the last few games and he’s doing very well with the Under-20s. I try to get along to as many Under-20 games as I can and I say to all the players, if they’re doing well in those then the next step’s the first team.

“Sam’s one of two or three who’ll be in my thoughts for tomorrow. He ran the show against Hibs the other night, he did very well. Along with three or four others, he’s one of the younger players we’ve got very high hopes for here.”

Meanwhile, Locke thanked fans and former players who paid, through the 1874 Fighting Fund, for Hearts to stay in Dingwall tonight ahead of tomorrow’s match. “I’m delighted the Hearts Fighting Fund are paying for our trip up,” he said. “Yet again, everyone is doing their utmost for the club.”