Lewis Moore admired Sam Nicholson’s rise from Riccarton academy prospect to Hearts idol. He was inspired seeing the winger establish himself in the first team, score a raking 25-yarder against Hibs and win a Championship title medal. Now, 19-year-old Moore finds himself stepping into the breach Nicholson has left behind.
He isn’t daunted, although he has fair-sized shoes to fill following Nicholson’s departure to Minnesota United. Hearts’ promote-from-within policy means Moore is next in line to step up and, as a fellow left-winger, he has modelled himself on Nicholson. The youngster is back competing for that wide left slot at Motherwell tomorrow after recovering from a hamstring injury.
He is acutely aware that taking on the mantle of Nicholson is a considerable task but, on the evidence of his opening-day performance against Celtic, young Moore has the attributes to emulate his predecessor.
“Sam was the player I would look up to when he was here. The fans liked him. He was just like me – direct, scored goals, good with both feet. He came through the academy as well,” said Moore, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“I don’t get distracted by playing in his position, I just get on with it. If I do as well as he did then I’m doing alright. He would be happy for me because he’s that type of guy. He’d help you with anything.
“I remember being in the under-17s and looking up to Sam and Jamie Walker. When I came in full-time, those were the two who helped you the most. They wouldn’t walk past you without talking to you and making you feel welcome.”
Injury stopped Moore from building momentum after the Celtic match three weeks ago so he is now eager to pick up where he left off.
“I’m fine now, there’s no pain any more so hopefully I can be involved tomorrow. I’ll just need to wait and see. Hopefully I’m at least on the bench and I can try to get on.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got injured. I just wanted to keep playing and keep my place in the team, but these things happen. The day before the Kilmarnock game, I kicked the ball near the end of training and my hamstring pulled a week bit. It was just a slight tweak so I was only out for a week and a bit.”
Like Nicholson, Moore is a bona fide Hearts academy graduate having first trained with the club aged ten at a satellite training camp in Ballieston. The request to step into the first team at Celtic Park was hugely unexpected for someone with only one senior appearance in maroon to his name.
“I didn’t expect it at all. When Jon Daly was asked to step in as interim head coach, he told me he was planning to put me in,” explained Moore. “That was a few days before the Celtic game so it gave me a few days to get it in my head and manage to get some sleep.
“That was important for me. When I made my first-team debut a couple of years ago, I was told the day before and I just couldn’t sleep at all. Having those few days did help.
“I used to be so bad under pressure, like really bad. I’m a bit better now. I just try to blank it out. If someone says something to you, then you know it’s just to help you improve.”
Daly has become something of a mentor for Moore and clearly harbours plenty faith in his teenage protege. The pair worked together at under-20 level and Daly has been determined to help smooth the player’s transition to senior level.
“When you have somebody who believes in you, then you feel confident. You want the ball all time to take players on. Jon helps me a lot. He speaks to you and pushes you constantly. He’ll tell you to believe in yourself. If you’re at Hearts, you’re a good player and you’ve got to take advantage of that.
“I prefer playing on the left but sometimes I can go on the right. I’m a fast, attacking winger and I always want to go forward. I’ll always work hard so I suppose the fans would like that. It’s probably why my hamstring went, right enough!”
Daly, of course, could potentially seal the Hearts head coach’s job permanently with a win at Fir Park. This will be the Irishman’s fourth game in interim charge following a 4-1 defeat at Celtic, a 1-0 win at Kilmarnock and last weekend’s goalless draw with Rangers at Ibrox.
Club owner Ann Budge has confirmed she will make an announcement on the position next week and Daly is a serious contender along with former Hearts captians Steven Pressley and Paul Hartley. If he plays tomorrow, Moore will be doing everything possible to help his Under-20 coach achieve an internal promotion.
“After the Celtic game, I thought I can surely play against anyone if I’ve played against the best team in Scotland. If Jon is the manager, he believes in me so that gives me every chance. I would like him to get the job, to be fair. I get on really well with him and always have done through the under-20s.”
One of the areas where Daly has helped Hearts improve since Ian Cathro’s exit is on the training field. Players feel they are working harder under the watchful eyes of Daly and coaches Austin MacPhee and Liam Fox.
“You see it in training,” said Moore. “Everybody is buzzing about, it’s competitive, everyone wants to win. Jon has tried to drill that into the players. Everyone is coming in from training sessions tired because they’re just running about so much.”