TYNECASTLE’S teenagers continue to get vital first-team experience as Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson prepares for the new season.
A 1-1 draw against Cowdenbeath saw ten teens in total feature, all of whom played against Stirling Albion 24 hours previously. More experienced figures like Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben will now return to the squad for friendlies against Preston and Everton over the next two weekends.
Players like Liam Smith, Leon Jones, Daniel Baur, Russell McLean, Lewis Moore and several others will take much from the last two games. Their more senior colleagues famously put ten goals past Cowdenbeath on their way to last season’s Championship title. This was a much more balanced affair as the youthfulness of the visitors was evident.
Billy King opened the scoring inside the opening minute – a hint that Hearts were perhaps in the mood to nestle another few balls in the Cowdenbeath rigging. They were hauled level before the break when Craig Johnston equalised, though, and in truth the game was an even affair overall.
Neilson brought the exact same squad to Fife as was used in Stirling. With Spanish forward Juanma sidelined by a groin complaint, there was a chance for Gavin Reilly to impress from the start alongside Osman Sow. It was winger King who made an instant impact from the left flank with the opening goal after just 43 seconds. He sprinted forward onto Sow’s flick and produced a composed finish across the body of Cowdenbeath’s trialist goalkeeper with his right foot.
Greig Spence’s overhead attempt bounced past the post on 13 minutes as the hosts tried to restore parity quickly. They hustled and bustled in midfield and attempted to interrupt Hearts’ tempo, which was notably quicker than the previous evening at Forthbank. Occasionally, the competitive edge threatened to spill over in the first half but the bit of tension in this friendly certainly made it more interesting for the sparse crowd in attendance.
Cowdenbeath’s probing eventually brought them level on 36 minutes after several efforts at Jack Hamilton’s goal. A cross from the right by one of the hosts’ five trialists was stroked low into the net from around six yards by Johnston. In a fairly even first 45 minutes, it was probably just what the part-time League One side deserved.
King and Jamie Walker were Hearts’ two most influential players in the first half. Walker in particular looked a class apart in an unorthodox central midfield role. He isn’t expected to play there when the competitive action begins, though. After a raft of interval substitutions by Neilson, the second period began but there were still several teenagers on the field for Hearts. Only trialist Dario Zanatta and defender Daniel Baur remained on the pitch from the first half.
One youngster just out of his teens, striker Gary Oliver, stung the palms of Cowdenbeath’s substitute goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area. Oliver is eager to prove to the Tynecastle coaching staff that he can contribute at senior level this season. His industry, pace and eye for goal should ensure he plays at least some part. He willingly chased through ball after through ball here but got scant reward. Eventually, his frustration began to show following several debatable offside calls against him.
Lewis Moore stood out against Stirling but was slightly more subdued at Central Park – perhaps due to the tight dimensions of the pitch. He ventured forward to try his luck from distance on 76 minutes but his effort sailed over the Cowdenbeath crossbar. Zanatta had an attempt blocked from an acute angle after sprinting on to Oliver’s pass inside. Then Oliver tried a left-footed volley but the home goalkeeper held the ball comfortably.
Hearts were pushing into the hosts’ half of the field the longer the game went on as they sought to find a winning goal. Cowdenbeath weren’t without their opportunities, though. A late header from a corner by substitute Kyle Miller flashed wide of goal as the visiting defence appeared to switch off for a moment. The final whistle sounded to end a night which may go down as “unremarkable” for many, but for Hearts’ teenagers it will have been another huge experience.
Cowdenbeath (4-4-2): Trialist (Trialist 52); Brett, J Armstrong, Donaldson, Yaqub; Trialist, Kane (Scullion 52), Hughes (Callaghan 52), Johnston (Wright 77); Spence (Trialist 77), L Armstrong (Miller 63). Subs: Nish.
Hearts (4-4-2): Hamilton (Alexander 46); L Smith (Paterson 46), McGhee (Jones 46), Baur, I Smith (McHattie 46); Zanatta, Walker (McKirdy 46), Buchanan (Anderson 46), King (Moore 46); Reilly (McLean 46), Sow (Oliver 46).
Referee: George Salmond.