Hearts defender Liam Smith harbours no regrets over his loan move to St Mirren despite the full-back problems at Tynecastle which could have made him a first-team regular.
The 21-year-old has played ten games in Paisley after moving west on a season-long loan. Hearts have toiled at left-back, where Rafal Grzelak, Michael Smith, Jamie Brandon and, most recently, teenager Daniel Baur, have filled in, whilst Ashley Smith-Brown is injured.
Smith featured at both right-back and left-back for his parent club last season but agreed a loan with St Mirren in August. He has helped them climb to the top of the Championship table.
He moved to ensure a full year of regular football rather than risk spending much of the campaign on the substitutes’ bench. Acknowledging he couldn’t have foreseen the full-back issues at Hearts, he stressed he wouldn’t change his decision to go on loan.
“You can’t really look with hindsight. It was a decision I had to make at the start of the season for my development,” Smith told the Evening News. “Ash has been injured a lot so he might have been fit and nobody would have got a look in.
“I can’t look into that too much. I’ve just got to focus on what I’m doing at St Mirren and work on my individual development. I’m just happy to be playing every week. Had I stayed at Hearts, that might not have been the case, so I’ve got no regrets.
“Neither the club nor myself felt I could sit and play maybe ten games for Hearts this season. It was at the point where I needed to go and get a full season of first-team football to develop myself. I think St Mirren was a good fit.
“Knowing I’ve got a game every week has been important for me, plus the team has been doing well. I think it’s been a good decision. I enjoyed working under Jack Ross with Hearts Under-20s. We’re sitting top of the league so he’s doing a good job.”
Smith’s admitted he is in the midst of a crucial year in his development. His aim is to help St Mirren gain promotion to the Premiership and then return to Hearts ready to become a first-team regular.
“I can really get my head down and prove my worth over the season with a view to looking to break in at Hearts next season,” he continued. “I’ve moved through as well to give myself the best opportunity. This is probably the season where I have to prove my quality. It’s hard to do that when you’re dropping in and out of the [Hearts] team. Other things were going on at Hearts with the manager changing.
“To have a stable season playing week in and week out is achance to go and prove myself. If I’m playing in the team at the top of the Championship, it can only stand me in good stead for going back to Hearts. Any kind of promotion on your CV would be a big positive.”
Smith is now on Scotland Under-21 duty ahead of European Championship qualifiers against Latvia and Ukraine, both at McDiarmid Park. He is confident the young Scots can reach the finals in 2019.
“We’ve had two wins so far, although the defeat to England was disappointing. We’d consider our selves better than the two teams we’re coming up against and we’ve already beaten one of them [Latvia], so six points from these games is definitely realistic. If we win both, you can say we’ve made a really good start.”