Exclusive: Hearts teen Macaulay Tait sets a Rangers target as he talks intimidation and learning to cope

It’s a pressurised time of the season which the young midfielder is relishing

The desire to self-analyse is heavily ingrained in Macaulay Tait. It is one of the reasons he has progressed from Lowland League to top league in Scotland this season. At 18, the midfielder has only 10 senior appearances for Hearts but his days in the club’s B team appear to be over. He is now an established first-team squad member - just don’t expect him to be content with that alone.

Tait played from the start for the first time at senior level last weekend as Hearts drew 1-1 with Kilmarnock at Tynecastle Park. After jumping four divisions up the Scottish football pyramid, he is already eyeing more game time as well as a role in a showpiece occasion at Hampden Park. Not before closer inspection of his performance as part of the ongoing development process.

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The teenager watched back every minute of last Saturday’s match on his own to identify small details which can be improved. It is a diligent part of modern football which any professional, young or old, can benefit from. Speaking exclusively to the Edinburgh News, Tait articulates his thoughts on his own display with brutal honesty.

“It’s another milestone ticked off with my first start. I did alright,” he says. “I thought I did quite well, especially in the first half, but Killie are a good team and they made it difficult in the second half. It was just a nice feeling to make my first start. The manager told me when the team was announced at the meeting before the game. I didn’t get a heads-up but I think that was probably for the better. It stopped me over-thinking things. I could just treat it like another game.

“The coaches said I did well. There were little bits I could tidy up on but they told me that I showed I can compete. I like watching the game back myself. You get a different view of the pitch. I can see if there is stuff I did well or if there is a pass I maybe didn’t see. Then I can have it in my mind to look for it next time.”

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He pinpoints an obvious moment where he might have done better after being dispossessed by the Kilmarnock midfielder Liam Polworth. “There was one near the end of the first half where Zander [Clark] has made a really good save. I tried to control the ball in my own third and, looking back, it was a bit silly. I should have just helped it on and cleared it to get us up the pitch. It was almost half-time so it would have been a bad time to concede. It’s a split-second decision you have to make and, at the time, it was the wrong one. Next time it happens I know just to clear it. I will try to learn from it. I try to take things like that from every training session and every game.”

Analyse the bigger picture and Tait will be acutely aware that there are very few negatives right now. He is forcing his way into a Hearts team destined to finish third in the Premiership and secure European football for a third year in succession. Then there is that Hampden engagement in just over two weeks. Hearts meet Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final as a potentially-enthralling climax to the season edges closer.

“It’s exciting times for me and the club,” remarks Tait. “It has been a good season overall. I’m hoping to continue getting a run-out over the next couple of games and then make the semi-final squad. I missed out last time [League Cup semi in November] so I want to stay in there this time.

“It’s another wee carrot for me to keep working hard and trying to impress because I really want to be there. I want to be playing for Hearts at Hampden. I’ve been in the crowd at these games so it would be nice to be on the pitch. I was at the Scottish Cup final against Rangers in 2022 and the final against Celtic in 2019. I haven’t seen us win a final yet but I’ve seen a few semi-final wins. Here’s hoping we can change that.”

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At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that this is an awful lot of pressure on a young man not too long out of high school. Tait’s mind seems sufficiently mature to cope. Patience from Hearts supporters helps as he adjusts to the demands of first-team football every day. “I haven’t sat down and thought about it too much. Things have been so full-on over the last couple of months. You obviously feel it in the crowd when it starts to get a bit edgy. I just focus on myself and make sure I’m doing my job. That’s all you can really do.

“The fans have been really good with me so far. They are always trying to encourage you. It’s nice to know that, if I make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world and they are going to back me either way. I haven’t had any people spotting me when I’m out and about but there have been a couple at the training ground. I’m trying to get used to that. They have all been really good and positive with me so it’s quite easy just now. It’s something a bit different, something you aren’t really taught about or that gets spoken about too much. It’s been good.”

It is interesting hearing his thoughts on this Saturday’s match with St Mirren in Paisley. Tait is naturally eager to retain a starting place for a game certain to be physical and aggressive. He explains how the Lowland League helped him prepare for such encounters. “The Lowland League taught me a lot about dealing with the physical aspect of men’s football,” he says. “Especially with younger guys, they are always trying to intimidate you and trying to leave a wee bit on you. It’s just giving as good as you get and dealing with it. I quite like it. I like getting stuck in and I like the other side of the game.

“This week will be pretty similar to the Killie game. St Mirren are a good team and tough to beat. They like to make it a physical battle so it’s just about dealing with that first. Hopefully, if we deal with that, the quality will come through. We can maybe create a few more chances and cause them more trouble than they will cause us.”

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