Jordan McGhee will be Hearts regular, says Neilson

Jordan McGhee has dropped out of the Hearts starting XI in recent matches
Jordan McGhee has dropped out of the Hearts starting XI in recent matches
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Jordan McGhee has been urged not to let his head go down after dropping out of Hearts’ starting XI in recent weeks.

The defender started five consecutive games through October and early November and helped his team keep four clean sheets during that period. However, he was a surprise omission for the home game against Dundee last month as left-back Juwon Oshaniwa returned from injury to take his place. McGhee was again listed among the substitutes for Hearts’ most recent match, away to Motherwell, although he did come on as a 51st-minute replacement for the Nigerian.

Robbie Neilson explained that the 19-year-old has simply been a victim of the fact Hearts possess several more established defenders. The head coach assured McGhee that it is only a matter of time before he becomes an established starter at Hearts, and insisted that he shouldn’t become despondent at being unable to currently command the level of game time he desperately craves.

“Jordan’s done really well for us this season,” Neilson told the Evening News. “He had a period in the team, then he came out, but he came on at the start of the second half at Motherwell and did really well.

“We know he’s a good player but we have a strong group of defenders. We’ve got internationalists, future internationalists and guys who have played at a good level in Europe. Jordan just has to keep developing and his long-term future at Hearts is that he will eventually become a regular first-team player.”

Neilson has spoken previously about how McGhee needed to develop physically in order to become a top-level centre-half, and the head coach is witnessing progress on that front.

“We can see Jordan’s physicality coming on,” he said. “He’s getting stronger and more aggressive, and you need that to play centre-half. He can play anywhere across the back four, though, or in central midfield.”

Competition for a defensive berth is set to increase further, with captain Alim Ozturk in contention for a place on the bench for tomorrow’s lunchtime clash with second-place Aberdeen at Pittodrie after more than two months out following hernia surgery. Jamie Walker and Soufian El Hassnaoui 
remain sidelined by injury.