Hearts teenager Jordan McGhee today received a vote of confidence from head coach Robbie Neilson as three new defenders prepare to fight for his place.
Recent signings Blazej Augustyn and Igor Rossi Branco should be joined by Juown Oshaniwa in the next few days, but Neilson stressed today that 18-year-old McGhee will still play a big part this season.
The Riccarton academy graduate has played in central defence in the last three pre-season matches against Stirling Albion, Cowdenbeath and Preston North End. With Alim Ozturk fully fit and appointed club captain, the race is on to see who will partner him at centre-back. Augustyn is the clear favourite.
McGhee might drop out initially but Neilson acknowledged that he can also play in both full-back positions. The arrival of more experienced new signings does not mean that McGhee will be marginalised within the first-team squad.
“What this means for Jordan is that he’s a big part of the squad. He will play games this season,” Neilson told the Evening News. “Nobody in the squad is going to play 40 games in a season because players will come in and go out. Jordan’s done really well in pre-season and he’s a big part of things here, the same as all the players.
“Because we bring in a striker, it doesn’t mean another striker isn’t going to be involved. It’s part and parcel of being at a big club in a big squad. Players rotate and come in and out. Jordan can play anywhere across the back so I have good options. If I can get Oshaniwa sorted out soon, then we’re looking pretty strong.”
The Nigerian is still awaiting a visa in his homeland and is unlikely to be in Edinburgh in time for Sunday. Everyone else, save for the injured Soufian El Hassnaoui, is available. Neilson is torn between the need to give players game time and the risk of further injury ahead of the start of the new season.
“They were all available for Preston last Saturday but I didn’t bother getting some of them involved,” he said. “I’d rather give them another week’s training and get them ready for Everton. There have been wee niggles here and there but that comes with the territory. Sunday is a big game but, at the end of the day, the league is the main thing for us. I need to be careful what I do on Sunday. I’ll put a strong team out but anyone with any small issues won’t be involved.”