Robbie Neilson reveals long-term plan to make Hearts teenager Harry Stone No.1
Recruiting two goalkeepers in eight weeks since rejoining Hearts does not mean Robbie Neilson will overlook Harry Stone, the 18-year-old Riccarton youth protégé.
On the contrary, the manager is devising very definite plans for the youngster once he recovers from a minor heel operation. A loan move to gain vital first-team experience will be negotiated in the not-too-distant future. Scottish League One and Two clubs have already made approaches.
Neilson hopes to mould Stone into a future Hearts No.1; in every essence a home-grown successor to Craig Gordon. He has consulted Riccarton coaching staff about Stone’s potential to fill the breach and received only glowing recommendations.
Gordon was lured back to Tynecastle Park from Celtic to provide goalkeeping assurance but also to mentor the highly-rated teen. Ross Stewart’s loan switch from Livingston to Hearts is for short-term keeper cover, not to restrict Stone’s development.
Over the course of the next few months, a loan move of his own will be the local lad’s first step towards that ultimate first-team goal. He should then progress to third-choice keeper in the Hearts squad, followed by a move up to second in line before claiming the status of first-choice.
Stone is currently at the start of a long but exciting pathway. “Harry has a problem with his heel and is having surgery on it so it will be six weeks before he can return to playing,” said Neilson, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I will get a good look at him then but I've heard so many good things about him.
“I've spoken to Paul Gallacher, our goalkeeping coach, and he talked very highly of young Harry. I've actually had a couple of clubs in League One and League Two enquiring about taking him on loan.
“There is no doubt he is a good keeper so we will just try to progress him as quickly as we can. We have Ross Stewart and Zdenek Zlamal competing with Craig Gordon at first-team level just now.
“We see Harry coming in and being third-choice initially, then hopefully up to second-choice and eventually first-choice. He is still young so we will see how he develops. Getting Craig in is going to be great for Harry in the long term.”
Liverpool and Watford previously attempted to take Stone to England, whilst Celtic have also been credited with an interest. The kid trained with Hearts’ first team under previous manager Daniel Stendel and Neilson wants the nurturing to continue.
“I'd like to have a good look at him myself before there is any decision on what we do with him. I've come in over the summer so I really haven't seen him play much, other than a couple of games against Dundee United when I was there,” explained the manager.
“Do I think he is ready yet? I'm not sure. I think he maybe needs a bit more time before he can go out and play consistently.
“That's along the lines of what we're thinking but we will just assess him once he is back fit. The most important thing for him is getting fully fit again, so we're all looking forward to that happening in a few weeks' time.”
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