Hearts youngsters fighting to cement place in first-team squad, says Robbie Neilson
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Defenders Cammy Logan and Scott McGill, attacking midfielders Finlay Pollock and Connor Smith and striker Euan Henderson have all clocked up game time in friendlies against East Fife and Spartans this week and are expected to be involved against Bonnyrigg Rose at Tynecastle on Saturday. Aidan Denholm and Aaron Darge also featured against Spartans.
With a gruelling schedule of fixtures coming up before the November break for the World Cup, Neilson says all five have an opportunity to cement a place in the first-team squad if they impress. The club’s new B team and loan moves to Championship or League 1 clubs are the other options being considered.
The manager told the Edinburgh Evening News: “Some of them will be in the B team. Some of them will go out on loan as well. There’s plans for them all, but this is an opportunity for them to showcase themselves and cement a place in the first team.
“I’ve still to make a decision about them all. The B team is great for us because it allows us to develop them. There’s a couple of them who can’t be in the B team. These games coming up are a chance for them to be involved in the first team.
“Before the World Cup we’ve got 26 games – eight more than anyone else outside the Old Firm, so we need to have a good squad here. Guys will get game time and we’ll make a decision about what’s best for them as players but also as a club.”
Henderson spent last season on loan at Alloa and is too old for the B team, but is currently the only natural striker in the squad backing up Liam Boyce. He scored against former club Spartans in a 1-0 win at Ainslie Park on Wednesday, but if another striker or two are recruited he could still be sent out on loan before the window shuts.
McGill, Smith and Logan, who spent last season on loan at Edinburgh City in League 2, are also too old but Pollock, Denholm and Darge could be included in Steven Naismith’s B team squad.
Hearts will have to submit a list of at least 22 B team players before the campaign starts against Berwick Rangers at Ferguson Park on July 23. All but two players must be in the under-20 age category, with one U-21 outfield player and another U-21 goalkeeper also permitted.
B team players can feature in the first-team, but anyone who plays five games for first team can’t play for the B team again until the next transfer window.
Neilson believes the B team’s participation in the Lowland League is a huge benefit to the players and the club, enabling them to be developed internally, providing them with competitive games and enabling them to back-up the first-team squad.“It’s fantastic,” added the manager. “They’ve not had a reserve league for a number of years now. It’s a big jump from 18s to the first team, so this is a wee bit of a bridge in between and it is great for the kids and great for their development, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they do.”