Lewis Moore insists Hearts can count on home-grown talent as they try to safeguard their top-six place. A trip to Dundee is sandwiched between home games against Partick Thistle and Aberdeen before the Premiership splits. Moore is confident the Riccarton teenagers can step up to the challenge.
Hearts’ stated aim was a place in the top four this season but Friday night’s defeat by Hibs at Easter Road leaves them six in the table – 12 points off fourth spot with eight games remaining.
Moore doesn’t argue with suggestions that the Tynecastle club have underachieved somewhat this season. “You could say so. We have some big names in the changing room. If you look at our squad on the paper, you think we should be pushing for it. I really don’t know what’s happened,” admitted the 19-year-old winger.
He hopes he and his fellow Riccarton academy graduates can help facilitate a bright end to the campaign. Midfielder Harry Cochrane, though, will be missing for four to six weeks with the hamstring injury he suffered against Hibs.
“Every young lad involved, this is our time to get into the team and stay in the team from now until the end of the season. Then, we need to continue into next season. It’s great experience for us,” said Moore.
“You could look at it two ways. Of course we want to be higher up the table challenging for Europe. Where we are now, maybe that means the younger ones get more game time. Maybe not. All the young lads will certainly be pushing to play. We’ve got Dundee, Partick and Aberdeen before the split and they’re great games to be involved in.
“You want to be playing first-team football every week. I don’t want to be playing in the Under-20s. I want to be playing for Hearts’ first team because it’s a great club. We just have to lift things a bit.”
Hearts’ fortunes have been decidedly mixed this season and results have largely been inconsistent, save for an impressive period during December and January.
The club hierarchy have invested almost £15million in a new main stand at Tynecastle, which has had a financial impact on the football department.
Add to that a change of manager on the eve of the league season – Craig Levein stepped forward from his director of football role after Ian Cathro’s sacking – and it has been a tumultuous campaign in many ways.
Moore, though, isn’t one to accept excuses. “Excuses get you nothing. It’s a game of football. You should be going into every game putting everything on the line. Sometimes luck plays a part but you can’t use that as an excuse either,” he said.
“After the game on Friday, the boys were saying the two goals came from throw-ins. It’s little things which make a difference in these games. After going all those games unbeaten not so long ago, I’ve got no words. It’s so frustrating.
“The gaffer was shouting instructions to get men in front of our centre-backs but that’s just schoolboy stuff. I really don’t know what happened.
“Maybe somebody switched off, or tiredness crept in, but you shouldn’t be switching off in a game like that. We’ll look at the video and hopefully we don’t see things like that again. We just have to move on.”
The winger was pleased to find himself back in the starting line-up after a six-week absence. Niggling injuries over the winter interrupted his progress, and he feels there is much to make up for during the final weeks of the season.
Fellow winger David Milinkovic missed the derby with a knee problem and Moore now hopes to retain his spot.
“It was definitely a surprise when I heard I was in the team,” he revealed. “I was told during the week it was either me or David. David obviously picked up a knee injury so I prepared like I was to start.”
He explained the nature of his injuries and looked ahead to playing more consistently between now and the summer.
“It’s been a frustrating time for me because I keep picking up niggling injuries. Friday was my first game in about three weeks and I did tire a bit,” admitted Moore.
“I came off against Dundee back in December because I got a wee tear in my calf. That put me out for about a month. Then, in my first game back for the Under-20s against Partick, I jarred my ankle. That was me out for another week. Now I’m building up fitness and I just want some more game time to get back to my best.”
Hearts coaching staff have been patient with the teenager and he is thankful for advice from the likes of Levein, assistant manager Austin MacPhee, plus coaches Jon Daly and Liam Fox.
“They speak to you and tell you to keep doing the right things. The senior players are all great with the younger ones as well – Christophe Berra, Steven Naismith, Kyle Lafferty and people like that. We need to look at them and follow their paths because they’ve all had good careers.”