Craig Levein heaped praise on teenage centre-back Chris Hamilton for standing up to the challenge of Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd on his Hearts debut yesterday.
A remarkable spate of injuries and suspensions meant the manager had to send out a makeshift and ultra-young side at Rugby Park. Starting with five teenagers, including 16-year-old debutants Hamilton and Cammy Logan, it came as little surprise that Hearts lost the game to Killie, but Levein was pleased at the way his side remained competitive and kept the scoreline to 1-0.
He singled out Hamilton for particular praise after he helped keep veteran hitman Boyd, who has struck 23 goals this season, off the scoresheet. The manager is excited by the maturity of the centre-back, who was recently named as the club’s under-20s player of the year.
“Chrissy Hamilton in particular, when you look at the size of him and the way he pushed himself with Boydy, who is a handful for any senior centre-back, I thought his performance was fantastic,” said Levein. “He has an old head on young shoulders, he just understands the art of defending. Some players can go right through their career and not understand that completely but he just knows how to defend. He knows when to buy free-kicks, if you like. And then when Boydy smashed into him – it’s quite brave standing in front of a train, isn’t it?
“If he was another five or six inches taller he’d be worth a fortune already because he just knows how to defend. The amount of times it’s him who clears the ball from inside the penalty box just by being in the right place at the right time. It’s a wee bit like a really good striker’s instinct to be in the right part of the box when the ball arrives – I think the best defenders are the same.”
In total, Hearts had four 16-year-old debutants yesterday as Hamilton and right-back Logan were joined by midfielder Connor Smith and attacker Leeroy Makovora, who both came off the bench.
“I thought Cammy held his own at right-back considering he’s just out of the academy,” said Levein.
“Young Connor was excellent when he came on. I’ve got really high hopes for him.”
Kyle Lafferty, who hit 19 goals this season, went over to the Hearts supporters at the end of yesterday’s match after his team-mates had already headed up the tunnel. Levein played down any notion that the club’s top scorer was indulging in a final farewell as speculation continues to surround his future at Tynecastle.
“He’s just a drama queen, isn’t he,” laughed Levein. “He’s got another year’s contract so we’ll see what happens.”
Lafferty himself tweeted last night: “Highest scoring season for me, disappointed never got the 20 goals but enjoyed it and feel lucky to wear the famous maroon jersey and hope for the same next season.”