Robbie Neilson outlines Hearts plans for Olly Lee and gives update on Loic Damour situation

Olly Lee is back in the picture at Hearts.Olly Lee is back in the picture at Hearts.
Olly Lee is back in the picture at Hearts.
Tynecastle coach has been delighted by English midfielder’s work

This time last year, Olly Lee appeared to be a forgotten man at Tynecastle.

The English midfielder had been farmed out on loan to Gillingham by then manager Craig Levein. The two did not appear to see eye-to-eye and despite a derby winner at Easter Road in December 2018 that endeared the 29-year-old to the Hearts faithful, Lee’s future in the Capital looked under threat.

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However, a lot can change in 12 months. Robbie Neilson has come in and with every player afforded a clean slate, Lee has been one of the former outcasts to impress the new man at the helm. He has started the past two friendlies against Falkirk and East Fife, playing in one of the two deeper midfield roles in 4-2-3-1. Neilson believes that position and the system will get the best out him.

"If we're playing that 4-2-3-1, I see him as one of the two, but as a more advanced one,” said Neilson of the former Luton Town midfielder. “I still think he's a box-to-box midfielder. We are trying to play to his strengths. I think he's good at coming on to the game as opposed to being too high and I think it will suit him starting a bit deeper.

"I've been really pleased with him - he's got great fitness levels and energy. From our perspective, it's at times putting a rein on him and getting him in the right areas, which I think he's starting to do.”

Lee will get another chance to shine in the Hearts engine room on Saturday when the Jambos host Partick Thistle in a warm-up match at Tynecastle. He is competing with Andy Irving, Peter Haring and Harry Cochrane for a spot in central midfield, along with Frenchman Loic Damour, who is back in training after a setback.

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"Loic's got a wee issue with his ankle,” said Neilson on the former Cardiff City midfielder, who was an unused substitute against Falkirk and is close to returning to action. “He jarred it in the bounce game we had at Tynecastle, so he's been training and we're just waiting to get him back in.”

Midfield is not the only area Neilson is content with right now. The former Dundee United head coach made strengthening wingers a priority upon his return and has been pleased with the impact of new signings Jordan Roberts, Elliott Frear and Josh Ginnelly. They will all vy for starts in the wide areas this term along with Lewis Moore, who signed a new contract with the club in the summer after impressing under previous manager Daniel Stendel.

"I spoke when I came in about trying to add pace to the team,” added Neilson. “I think it's important, especially in the Championship, that you can open teams up in the wider areas. We've got [Jamie] Walker and [Steven] Naismith who can play in between the lines, so it gives us a lot of options. I've been pleased with all the wingers.