THERE is a reassuring calmness about Jason Holt as he prepares for the biggest few days of his fledgling football career.
The 19-year-old is composed and confident ahead of this evening’s face-off with SPL champions Celtic at Tynecastle. Then comes Sunday’s trip to Easter Road for a Scottish Cup tie with Hibs, which might just be a tad tasty.
Holt is thriving at the highest level and relishing the opportunities granted him by John McGlynn, the Hearts manager. Yet, in his own words, he has done nothing yet.
Starting the past three games has given him confidence and belief after weeks of being overlooked, but, in sport, motivation comes from within. Holt has shedloads of it.
“I’ve not done anything yet. I’ve started three games – that’s nothing. It’s only three games,” he said. “I would like to think there’s a lot more to come. I’m looking to try and get a run in the team. I’m just looking to keep it going and stay involved now. I need to keep doing well to keep getting selected.
“This is definitely my biggest game so far. I’ve played against Inverness, St Mirren and Motherwell, but Celtic are the league champions and this will be my biggest yet.
“It could add some nerves, but you just need to treat it as another game. It’s a big occasion and Celtic are a big team, but if you ease yourself into the game, you should be OK.”
Holt’s ability to influence matches has gradually come to the fore this month. That brings its own pressures, which the young midfielder is dealing with in typically unflustered fashion. “Hearts is a big club, so, when you step into the first team, there is pressure on your shoulders,” he continued. “Football comes with attention, things like talking to the press – you just deal with it.
“You keep your feet on the ground and concentrate on just doing well. I’m just enjoying this at the moment, getting a run of games. If you know you have a chance of playing at the weekend then you’ve got a spring in your step. If you know you don’t really have a chance, you’re a bit more subdued.
“The manager has said I’ve been doing really well and he wants me to keep it up. He said I should be taking confidence from my performances, which I’m looking to do.
“Any player, especially a young player, if you’re playing with confidence then you’re going to perform a lot better. I want to carry confidence on from one game to the next.
“This is a massive week for the club. It started at Motherwell on Saturday, now it’s Celtic and then Hibs. I just want to keep doing well and to be involved against Hibs would be great.
“I don’t know if that will be the case yet. I treat every game the same. Whether we’re playing Hibs, St Mirren or whoever, I treat it the same way. Obviously these two games are really big for the club.”
Hearts must do without Danny Grainger tonight and for the foreseeable future after the full-back tore his anterior cruciate ligament at Motherwell on Saturday. He could be out for several months, although an exact recovery period will be determined by a specialist. His absence may offer an unexpected opportunity for Kevin McHattie, another former youth team colleague of Holt, to deputise.
“Already there are a lot of young boys in the team and around the squad,” said Holt. “I’d definitely expect more coming through. With January coming, nobody really knows what’s happening, so I would imagine a lot of younger boys will come in. That can only be good for the club.”
McGlynn said he already knows who will replace Grainger. “I’m really disappointed for Danny, but we’ll shuffle the pack about a wee bit.
“We know what we want to do, so we’ll get on with it,” explained the manager. “It’s a disruption we could do without, obviously. We have two options. We do what we did when Danny went off on Saturday [put Darren Barr to right back and Ryan McGowan to left-back], or we put Kevin in.”
Whatever decision McGlynn makes will be scrutinised heavily – something he is more than aware of. Modern technology allows round-the-clock debating on football and managers often bear the brunt of public frustration. A case in point occurred at Parkhead on Saturday when Celtic’s Neil Lennon became engaged in a heated exchange with a Hoops fan during the defeat by Inverness.
McGlynn avoids any outside influences. “I listen to Talksport because they never talk about Hearts,” he laughed. “I stay away from it. I am blinkered. I listen to my backroom staff, of course, but I don’t look at the Scottish television stations or anything else. I don’t want to get caught up in stuff but instead remain very open-minded.”
That said, he isn’t immune to reacting to criticism from the stands. “I remember when Raith Rovers had qualified for the play-offs, but still had one league game to go. We were playing Peterhead and I changed the team around a bit to keep some players fresh for the play-offs.
“This drunk guy came down to me at the end of the game and was giving me dog’s abuse. We got beat 4-1 or 5-1.
“Of course, that result was a bit of a blow, but we had qualified for the play-offs so it didn’t really make any difference.
“I ended up having a verbal confrontation with this guy because you can walk down the stand at Stark’s Park and come right up to the dug-outs.
“I invited him into my office at 9am on the Monday morning, but he never appeared.”