Gary Locke today challenged winger Billy King to become more ruthless in front of goal as the Hearts manager welcomed the rare luxury of having a semblance of competition for places in the wide areas.
The Tynecastle side are down to the bare bones in most positions, but Locke has been able to rotate King and David Smith so far this season, while 18-year-old fringe man Sam Nicholson also moved into contention for increased involvement with a scintillating performance for the Under-20s in last night’s 2-2 draw with Hibs.
King is considered one of the top young talents at Riccarton, while he was described last week as one of the best finishers at the club by none other than legendary Hearts striker John Robertson, who has been helping out with coaching.
Locke admits the 19-year-old would do his bid for a more regular starting berth no harm at all if he started putting his shooting ability to use on a more often on a match day.
“If somebody of Robbo’s ilk is saying that he’s one of the best finishers at the club, then that speaks volumes,” said the manager. “I watch Billy every day and he is a fantastic finisher with both feet. That’s one of the things we’re trying to add to his game. I’d like to see him shoot a bit more because he tends to try and pass it in positions where we’d rather he had a shot. He’s a fantastic talent and hopefully he’ll become a Hearts great in years to come.”
Smith, 20, has started three of Hearts’ six league matches this season, while King has started two, including the most recent game against Celtic, while both have been regulars off the bench. Having not yet had the same first-team exposure that the likes of Jason Holt, Jamie Walker and Kevin McHattie enjoyed last season, Locke expects them both to improve as the season goes on.
“Billy and David are still probably trying to get up to speed with the demands of playing in the first team, but it’s probably the one area of the pitch where we can afford to change things a wee bit,” he said. “They’re both young lads, so you’re going to get indifferent performances from them. I’d like to see one or two of them putting up consistent performances week in, week out so I don’t need to change things every week, but they’re young and still learning the game.
“It’s a difficult shift in that position, having to get up and down the pitch. We’re working hard with them and trying to get them working a bit harder when we’ve not got the ball because I think everyone can see that, with the ball, they’ve both got qualities. It’s without the ball that they’ve maybe still got a bit to learn.”