Hearts challenge Jack Hamilton to clinch group stage shutout

Jack Hamilton has kept clean sheets in both of Hearts' opening matches
Jack Hamilton has kept clean sheets in both of Hearts' opening matches
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Hearts have challenged goalkeeper Jack Hamilton to emerge from the Betfred Cup group phase without conceding a goal.

The keeper has two clean sheets so far with two games of Group B remaining, including tonight’s tie at Peterhead.

Hamilton has endured criticism from Hearts supporters this year but is fighting to keep his first-team place. He returned for pre-season training to news that the club were seeking a new goalkeeper and he was moved from No.1 to No.13 in the list of squad numbers.

However, he kept goal in the 1-0 win over Elgin City last week and in Saturday’s 3-0 victory against East Fife. Clean sheets in his first two competitive outings have built the 23-year-old’s confidence. Coaching staff now want to see him continue that vein of form to help them into the last 16 of the Betfred Cup, although the search for another goalkeeper is ongoing.

“I’m delighted for Jack to get two clean sheets and he was key in us getting that clean sheet on Saturday,” said assistant coach Austin MacPhee.

“East Fife had the best part of the start of the second half and we had to defend bravely. Jack played his part in that. He can feel satisfied because he’s gone three hours without losing a goal.

“The challenge to players is: ‘Can we get through the group stages with four clean sheets?’ Jack can be a massive part of that.”

MacPhee backed Hamilton to survive any public carping due to his in-built mental strength. “Jack is a tough boy. He was sitting on the bench for Scotland against England at Hampden in June, don’t forget,” he added.

“We’ve got no doubts about Jack’s talent. He takes a lot of responsibility. Tynecastle can be a tough place to play at times. Quite rightly, there is a demand from supporters here.”

Midfielder Arnaud Djoum travelled north with the Hearts first-team squad yesterday and is expected to make his first appearance of the season against Peterhead.

He had been given an extended summer break after playing for Cameroon at the Confederations Cup in Russia last month. He returned to Edinburgh last week and has proved his fitness.

“Arnaud is travelling with us. There’s an opportunity for him to get back on the pitch with us. It’s great to have him back as part of the squad,” said head coach Ian Cathro, who is again without left-back Ashley Smith-Brown and centre-back Aaron Hughes.

“Ashley won’t be involved,” he continued. “He’ll stay back to work on a strengthening programme. Aaron will also stay. There’s nothing serious wrong with him, we’re just managing some minor stuff and a bit of discomfort which we don’t need to take risks with.”

• HEARTS owner Ann Budge has retained her place on the Scottish Professional Football League board.

Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson has been elected as one of three top-flight representatives along with Hamilton chairman Les Gray and Budge.

Morton chief executive Warren Hawke and Martin Ritchie of Falkirk are the Ladbrokes Championship delegates while Stranraer chairman Iain Dougan will represent the bottom two divisions.

The new-look board will retain only three of last season’s nine appointees – Budge, SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and independent non-executive director Karyn McCluskey, who is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland. Murdoch MacLennan is replacing outgoing chairman Ralph Topping on August 1.