With a metal screw lodged in his foot, it would seem natural that Jason Holt is feeling some discomfort. Yet he won’t allow it to interrupt his rehabilitation following a broken metatarsal bone.
The Hearts midfielder is determined to continue training and playing despite the screw causing him some minor distress. It was inserted during surgery to heal the break and will remain in place for the rest of Holt’s life. The slight pain he feels right now is just part of the bedding in period, according to medical experts.
More important to the 21-year-old is fighting his way back into the team at Hearts, starting against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park tomorrow afternoon. He missed more than three months of football after sustaining the foot injury in training, which coincided with the team’s disastrous run of results during the Christmas period.
He has managed two substitute appearances in recent weeks and, despite a bit of pain from the screw, has resolved to reclaim a starting place as quickly as possible.
“I played for the Under-20s on Tuesday night and I could still feel it slightly, but it’s nothing that will stop me training or playing,” said Holt in an exclusive Evening News interview. “I spoke to the physio and I’m sure it will ease as time goes and gradually get better.
“Last week in training I irritated the screw in my foot and that’s the problem just now. It’s nothing to do with the operation or anything like that. I’ve just irritated the screw slightly so it’s a case of letting that calm down.
“That metal screw will stay in forever. It’s giving me slight bother, but it’s nothing to worry about. Everything was going well and there were no problems at all after the operation. It’s just unfortunate that it took a wee reaction, but thankfully it’s nothing major.”
With one important bit of metal hidden from view, Holt must now show his own mettle amidst fierce competition for midfield places. Ryan Stevenson has reverted to his favoured area of the pitch in recent weeks after playing much of the season as a striker. Sam Nicholson has emerged from the Under-20 team and started the last six matches on the left flank. Add in Callum Paterson, Jamie Hamill and Scott Robinson – not forgetting the injured Jamie Walker and David Smith – and the midfield becomes a pretty congested area for anyone to infiltrate.
Holt is undeterred. “I’m always hopeful of getting involved. First and foremost, I need to get back in the team,” he said. “I want to get back in the starting line-up and get playing every week again. It’s been frustrating being out injured and not playing for so long. I’ll just keep training hard and try to impress the manager and fight my way back in.
“The last game I played was Aberdeen away and I missed a vital part of the season over the festive period. There are a lot of matches played at that time of year and I missed quite a few of them. It was really hard being out at that time. That’s why I want to get back into the first team as soon as possible. My aim is to play every game between now and the end of the season. That’s all I can do.
“If I do get back into the side, I need to make sure my performances are up there at a high level. I’ll be doing everything to make sure of that.
“It’s good for the manager to have competition in midfield because it gives him selection problems. Stevo has dropped back into the middle of the park recently and Sam’s been playing every week. I think competition is good but I’ll be fighting every week in training.”
One the most harrowing experiences of his injury absence was watching Hearts’ last encounter with Kilmarnock at Tynecastle on Boxing Day. Two goals from the predatory Kris Boyd and one apiece from Chris Johnston and Rory McKenzie saw the Ayrshire club run amok in a 4-0 win. Holt sat in the stands wondering what was happening and is determined there will be no repeat tomorrow.
“I remember watching that and it was a thoroughly disappointing day,” he recalled. “For the team, that day wasn’t good enough and it was addressed after the game and the week after that. Everyone was told it needs to be better and I think, barring last week at Motherwell, the performances have been a lot better.
“We did go on a wee run from that point, although the League Cup semi-final was a disappointment during that time. Last week wasn’t up to scratch and wasn’t good enough and the boys know that. We’ll be doing everything possible to put it right tomorrow.”
Motivation isn’t likely to be a problem. Even the tone of Holt’s voice indicates he feels he has plenty to play for between now and the summer. Above all will be the desire to prove himself worthy of a contract extension beyond the summer.
Hearts have an option to extend his existing agreement for a further 12 months and keep him at Tynecastle until June 2015. They are certain to be down a division by then, but the prospect of relegation would not put Holt off staying should the club decide to invoke the clause in his contract.
“It’s the club’s option so I just want to get back in the team as soon as possible and play games. It’s been a frustrating time out and I’m just itching to be back involved.”
Hearts head to Rugby Park with a deficit of 20 points at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership following last week’s 4-1 defeat by Motherwell at Fir Park. Holt explained that there is nothing else for it than to keep battling against the odds and in the face of everyone who is writing off his team as relegation certainties.
“Since the start of the season, everyone has been against us,” stressed the midfielder.
“There’s no chance we’ll be giving up. The morale within the squad is still high just now because we know we need to keep fighting every week to pick up as many points as possible. Every game from now till the end of the season will be hard but as players we need to keep the spirits up. We’ll be fighting right till the last game of the season.”