Hearts set out their aims for Premier Sports Cup with youths poised for first-team chance
Youthful exuberance will pepper the Hearts team during July’s Premier Sports Cup ties as management look to win the group with a 100 per cent record.
The Tynecastle side were drawn in Group A alongside Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Peterhead, Cove Rangers and Stirling Albion. Manager Robbie Neilson intends to use those games to test some of the club’s promising youngsters at first-team level.
Striker Euan Henderson, midfielders Connor Smith and Scott McGill, defender Cammy Logan and goalkeeper Harry Stone could all be involved. The quintet are spending the close season training regularly at Riccarton hoping to stake a claim for a regular place in Neilson’s side.
Hearts’ first Premier Sports Cup tie is on July 10 away to Peterhead and the club’s aims for the first phase of the competition are clear.
“We know we're in the north section so we’re aware there is going to be a bit of travelling, but these are good games for us. We will have a number of friendly games before the competitive stuff starts and we will be going into that section expecting to win it,” Neilson told the Evening News.
“We will be looking to get 12 points out of 12 and progress to the knockout stages. It's always an early start in the League Cup so it's important we're ready for it. It's only three or four weeks after we start pre-season training. That's why the boys have their close season fitness programmes to follow.”
On the prospect of younger players pushing into the senior squad, Neilson explained: “They will be involved in the friendlies and the Premier Sports Cup games as well. We've brought them in over the close season to give them the best chance to hit the ground running going into these games.
“It's the same every year. You speak to all the young ones and say: 'This is your opportunity now. Look after yourself over the close season and come back fit to go into the pre-season games.’
“Some friendlies will be on the same day as each other so the squad will be split up. That's a chance for younger ones to come back flying and catch the eye. Do that and you can get yourself in the team.
“I always think this period is so important for them to keep themselves fit, come back and play games to get that confidence. Generally, most years one or two do that. They go from not being involved or being out on loan to becoming a first-team regular.”
If even one of the above-named players becomes a regular starter next season, the summer sacrifice will be justified. Seeing more youthful energy in the team has been the wish of many Hearts fans for a while.
“If that happens, it's worth all the effort,” said Neilson. “Normally the staff get five weeks off because we are working right through the rest of the year, but we asked if they would come in.
“Bob McCunn and Mikey Williams [sports science and fitness] are in a couple of days a week, likewise Gordon Forrest, Lee McCulloch and myself. That’s to try to help these young kids and give them the best opportunity to get into the Hearts first team next season.”