Craig Levein insists Hearts loanee Demetri Mitchell’s steely mentality helped him step up from academy football at Manchester United and thrive in the cut-throat Edinburgh derby.
The 21-year-old was a standout in Sunday’s Scottish Cup fourth-round win against Hibs in only his second appearance at senior level. Levein brought him north to solve Hearts’ problem left-back position and the decision already looks like sound judgment.
United converted Mitchell from winger to full-back 18 months ago, although his only first-team outing before arriving at Tynecastle was against Crystal Palace on the final day of last season’s English Premier League.
Levein deployed him as a left wing-back and already likes what he sees. He is impressed by Mitchell’s mental strength. “Demi made things really good down the left. It feels good, it looks good, and it was a big game for him,” the manager told the Evening News. “Some players can come here and, no matter how good they are as footballers, they don’t have the mentality for it. Sunday was not academy football down in England. That’s mostly what Demetri has been playing.
“For him to step up and deal with the physicality was great. Some of his blocks, tackles and heading were really good. These are things you wouldn’t think of from a guy who was a winger not so long ago.”
Levein also praised the improved work rate of Esmael Goncalves after Hearts ended Hibs’ nine-game unbeaten run in Edinburgh derbies. The Portuguese striker deputised for the suspended Kyle Lafferty in attack and his industry became a feature in the game.
“We needed him to be fully focused, competitive and switched on when the opposition had the ball,” explained Levein. “He’s a really good player when we are in possession but it’s the changeover and the transition when he is sometimes just a wee bit slow to react. I thought he was much better at that on Sunday.
“I thought he was really unlucky in the first half when he had an opportunity and he said the Hibs boy handled it. He might have had a penalty there.
“He was good on Sunday and he was good up at Aberdeen before the break. He is following instructions and working for the team.”
Goncalves, if he is to stay at Tynecastle long-term, must accept being rotated along with other forwards. “All the strikers have been in and out,” said Levein. “Kyle and Isma have been in and out, while Cole Stockton has been more out than in. I haven’t always favoured one over the other. The reason for the selections are based on who we are playing against.”