Hearts’ youngsters thrive as fans’ loyalty is rewarded

THE irony is that if Hearts survive the present, their on-field future looks extremely prosperous.

Recent financial alarms prompted a sellout for St Mirren’s visit to Tynecastle, before which it was announced £500,000 has been raised through the recent share issue. Those fillips were topped up by the appearance of youngsters Jason Holt, Dylan McGowan and Jamie Walker in the 
starting line-up.

The Riccarton youth academy, in tandem with the Hearts Youth Development Committee, are producing more talented kids than John McGlynn can accommodate in the first team. The club now needs to raise extra cash to bridge a £2 million funding shortfall through to the end of the season. If they can do so, next year promises a sustainable balance sheet and a thriving young team.

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Holt, McGowan and Walker all impressed on a day when supporters’ loyalty and rallying was rewarded with three vital league points. It was only Hearts’ third home league win this season, but there was a vibrancy around Gorgie as supporters scattered into the dark on Saturday evening. Everyone had contributed, illustrated by the pre-match applause given to fans from Hearts players and staff on the pitch.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic what the fans and the backroom staff and people behind the scenes have done,” said Holt. “The fans were just brilliant. We can’t thank them enough. I’m a Hearts fan and my family are Hearts fans. My uncles are season ticket holders so they’re all buying into this. Everyone’s rallied round and done a great job. When you’re out there clapping and you see all the fans standing and applauding, you can’t ask for more. It was brilliant.

“The future of the club is 
really bright. There are a lot of good young players. That’s been proven in the under-20 games which are going really well, so the future is fantastic at the club. If you’re good enough the gaffer’s going to play you. If you’re doing well, he’s going to play you. The opportunities are there for everyone.”

Holt named Bruno Aguiar as one of his childhood idols because the Portuguese was small in stature but technically gifted. The young midfielder from Musselburgh is shaping up as an ideal successor having started the last two first-team matches and played for Scotland Under-21s in Portugal last week.

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“I just waited for my chance and thankfully I got a start at Inverness last week and another start on Saturday,” the 19-year-old said. I’m just happy to be playing. A lot of people look at the Scottish game and think it’s physical but it’s not at all. Football’s a game where you get the ball down and play. I just like to get on the ball at every opportunity. And if I can do that and create something, it does a job for the team.”

With Dylan and Ryan McGowan in the same side, it was the first time two brothers had started a match for Hearts since Frank and Hugh O’Donnell in the 1940s. St Mirren arrived in Edinburgh on the back of four defeats and a draw in their last five fixtures. They wouldn’t have relished a capacity Tynecastle crowd, however it must be said their organisation and resilience proved tough obstacles for Hearts.

The hosts enjoyed a majority of possession but found it difficult breaking their opponents down. Not until the 63rd minute did the decisive moment arrive as Danny Grainger took a short free-kick from substitute Arvydas Novikovas and lashed it at goal. The ball spun off St Mirren’s Kenny McLean, who attempted to close Grainger down, and looped over the helpless goalkeeper Craig Samson.

Grainger set off towards his wife and young son in the stand with his thumb in his mouth. “If it’s good enough for Messi, it’s good enough for me,” he said afterwards. Yet he and the rest of the Hearts defence endured a nervous final 15 minutes as St Mirren pressed for an equaliser. Marc McAusland came closest with a header which Holt cleared off his own goal line.

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“It’s always a relief when you win,” admitted McGlynn. “We wanted to give the fans a victory for all their efforts and we did. We dominated but St Mirren came here after a few defeats and weren’t going to open up. We got a wee break which I thought we deserved at the goal.”

Off the field, McGlynn underlined that supporters’ backing remains vital to Hearts right through to next summer. The £500,000 raised means the £450,000 tax bill due in instalments through to December 3 will be paid in full. However, bringing in sufficient monies to keep Hearts alive until the end of the season remains a primary concern.

“We’ve got to put a brave face on and show a good front but you are worried,” said McGlynn. “With £500,000 raised through shares, it gives us some breathing space. There’s still a long way to go, but if anyone else can still muster up the money please do, because we’re not out of the woods yet.”

A clutch of prodigious youngsters are likely to be the cornerstone of next season’s Hearts team. Any supporter worth their salt will want to see that. Rest assured, Hearts fans will continue fighting for their club.