Hearts will take their time in making a decision on the future of in-form defender Liam Smith.
The 21-year-old was loaned to St Mirren last summer in order to gain regular game time and he has been a standout as the Paisley side have surged clear at the top of the Scottish Championship.
Earlier this week Buddies manager Jack Ross intimated that he would be keen to keep the Scotland Under-21 internationalist for his side’s likely ascent to the Premiership next season. Smith signed a contract extension at Hearts prior to going out on loan so he is tied to his parent club for the duration of next season, and Levein is a fan of the Riccarton academy graduate.
However, Hearts currently have four other right-backs on their books in the shape of Connor Randall, Michael Smith, Jamie Brandon and Marcus Godinho. Of this quartet, only Randall – on a season-long loan from Liverpool – is not contracted beyond the summer.
“I haven’t heard from Jack but we’ll look at Liam’s situation in the summer,” Craig Levein told the Evening News. “We’ll probably bring him back and then assess things from there.”
Smith has made 35 appearances for Hearts, including 20 from the start. However, with Scotland internationalist Callum Paterson ahead of him for most of his time at Tynecastle, he was often utilised at left-back and unable to enjoy a sustained run in his favoured position. Having started 25 of St Mirren’s 28 league games this term, Smith is viewed as a Premiership-calibre right-back by Ross, who would be keen to find a way of retaining him for next season.
“Liam is not my player, so it would be remiss of me to comment on his future until he knows what the situation is with Hearts,” said Ross, a former Hearts Under-20s coach. “What I will say is that I am a huge fan of him. I obviously knew him and worked with him before, and I’m a big admirer of him.
“He has been a consistently good performer for us, and I still think he has further improvement. He will get even better. I would say that he is ready to play in the Premiership next season, but at the moment, that will be with Hearts. If things were to change, we would love the opportunity to work with him again, but he’s a Hearts player and that’s where his future lies until I know any different.”