Andy Irving plays way into first-team plans as Craig Levein hails Hearts kid's Betfred Cup display
Andy Irving has played himself into Hearts' plans this season after scoring in Friday night's Betfred Cup tie with Dundee United.
Despite a late red card in the 1-1 draw, the teenage midfielder impressed manager Craig Levein with his performance.
Hearts earned a bonus point in Group A with a 5-3 penalty shootout victory over a United side who competed well throughout. Lawrence Shankland marked his debut for Robbie Neilson's Championship club with a headed goal on nine minutes, but Irving volleyed the equaliser a minute from the interval.
He was sent off after slipping and handling the ball to deny Nicky Clark a clear goalscoring opportunity on 84 minutes. That may have prevented United winning inside normal time, but Levein was nonetheless pleased with Irving's contribution.
After previous loan spells at Berwick Rangers and Falkirk, the 19-year-old will get more opportunities at Tynecastle Park this year. "I'm not going to complain about the red card. I thought Andy was unlucky," said Levein.
"One of the criticisms I have of him at times is he doesn't do the leg work to chase back. Unfortunately for him, this time he did it properly then slipped and landed on the ball. I believe he handled it and that's why he got sent off.
"I'm pleased he did the first part right - the second part obviously wasn't in the plan. I don't think it will take the shine off his performance. He will be disappointed getting sent off. He did enough in the game for me to feel he is going to be a useful addition to the group this season.
"Normally, he plays in the three-man midfield when he has more options. He is very good at one-touch passing. We played two in there against United's three so it was difficult for us to pass the ball in the field, and we didn't see Andy at his best. We will see him at his best when we get back to playing three in the middle.
"I thought Aaron Hickey was really good at left-back. He finished last season really well and started this season the same. Jake Mulraney likewise. We got two points, I'd like to have got three, but provided we do our job in the rest of the group games it gives us a chance of going through."
Hearts attacked United relentlessy on a sodden evening and their manager drew encouragement from many aspects of their play. "I was pleased with the performance. Experience tells me we will get better. It was our first competitive match, the pressure was on us and United could enjoy themselves," added Levein.
"I was really pleased with a lot of individual performances and some combinations on the field worked really well. We controlled long spells of the match. Our ruthlessness in front of goal could have been better, that would be my one criticism.
"Our forwards Uche Ikpeazu, Jamie Walker and Conor Washington are all behind the others [in terms of fitness]. Jamie had an operation in January, Uche had an injection in the summer and Connor just joined us having been without a club. They needed game time. I thought all of them were good. Jamie was excellent in spells."
Neilson was proud of his players against opponents from a league above. "It was a positive outcome, 100 per cent. We were against a top six or a top four team. Any team outwith the Old Firm would take a point going to Tynecastle," he said.
"We proved to ourselves and everyone else we can play at this level. Lawrence got his first goal against two international centre-backs. That shows the quality he's got."