Frustrated Hearts players were today advised to be patient in their quest for game time at Tynecastle.
Head coach Robbie Neilson is aware certain members of his squad want to play more, but with the club sitting second in the Ladbrokes Premiership he is urging them to bide their time.
Striker Gavin Reilly and midfielder Danny Swanson are amongst those striving to force their way into Neilson’s starting line-up. Both appeared as substitutes in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Dundee, while winger Billy King started a league game for the first time since August before being withdrawn early through injury.
Reilly had hoped for a starting place with Spanish forward Juanma suspended, and Swanson is still seeking to establish himself after joining Hearts two months ago. Neilson wants those not in the team at the moment to stay focused and work hard until an opportunity comes their way.
“They have to be patient and they have to perform when they come in,” he said. “They have to bide their time, work hard in training and do well each day, then grasp their chance and show us what they can do when they come in.
“Reilly is trying to get his opportunity but I decided to change the shape a wee bit on Saturday. To be honest, I thought it worked. We had Arnaud Djoum in there, then we had to take King out and shuffle things about. We lost our attacking threat and found it hard to get Djoum into the game because we had three centre midfielders behind him.”
Neilson also chose to leave out Jordan McGhee in favour of the Nigerian left-back Juwon Oshaniwa against Dundee. “I thought the defence did okay and I thought Juwon gave us a bit more in attack. Ultimately, it wasn’t the defence that caused the problem,” he continued.
“It was the team in general, which just wasn’t at it. We had a 25-minute spell at the start of the game and then we just didn’t perform after that. We tried to make some changes in personnel and shape to get us going but it just wasn’t there.
“The players have to go out there and perform every week but it’s a difficult thing to do. You’re saying: ‘I’m just going to go out and perform at 100 per cent every week and it will happen.’ You always hope you’ll be able to get through the game when it’s a bad day like Saturday.
“We were playing against a team that finished in the top six last year and everyone’s devastated. That shows where we are. I think it is a sign of the expectations. We’re in a great position, we’re still sitting in second place and we’re six points behind Celtic. It’s the nature of football that everyone wants to win every game.
“Saturday is one of the reasons why I don’t expect us to compete at the top end of the league with Celtic. People talk about us possibly being challengers but, if you want to be a challenger, you have to win those games. We’re not ready to go and do that at the moment. We’re not experienced enough to do it. I hope it comes, and I think it will in the next couple of years.”
The knee injury which forced King off on 35 minutes is not thought to be serious. “He just opened his knee up a little bit so he should be okay for this week,” said Neilson. “He started running on it during the game and it just wasn’t right. It’s something we’ll have a look at but I don’t expect it to be a big problem.”