Ross Stewart's Hearts move 'came out of blue' but he's really impressed his new boss

A goalkeeper never wants to be taken by surprise, but that’s exactly what happened to Ross Stewart this summer – in a good way.
Ross Stewart made his debut for Hearts against Raith Rovers.Ross Stewart made his debut for Hearts against Raith Rovers.
Ross Stewart made his debut for Hearts against Raith Rovers.

“I was sitting in my living room one day and I got a phonecall from my agent just saying, 'Hearts have been in contact, wanting to get you on loan',” recalls Stewart, fresh from making his Jambos debut against Raith Rovers. “As soon as I heard that I was like, I want to get this done as soon as possible and get myself here. It came out the blue.”

Stewart’s six-month loan switch from Livingston to Tynecastle caught most football observers out. The 25-year-old, who started his career at Motherwell and has worked his way back to professional football via two seasons with Albion Rovers, has quietly gone about his business, impressing a number of coaches with his attitude and abilities. He was handed the gloves for Raith’s visit in the Betfred Cup and further enhanced his credentials with an assured display.

Analysing his own performance

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"I thought it went well. I enjoyed it,” Stewart reflected on his debut. “I did everything that they asked me to do. At the time, I thought I was maybe at fault for the goal, but I watched it back and it was an absolute rocket. I did everything that I've been doing in training and just brought it into my game.”

Stewart made a couple of good saves, kicked the ball well and was solid under cross balls. He’s right, Manny Duku’s goal was a rocket. He had very little chance. It denied him a clean sheet on his first appearance, but that won’t dampen his enthusiasm about playing for Hearts. He is loving life in Gorgie.

"It feels brilliant,” said Stewart. “When I first got told I was coming to this club, I was over the moon, and I've been working really hard since I've been here. I'm very grateful for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it on Tuesday night."

Further education

At 25, Stewart is still learning as a goalkeeper. He is relishing the chance to work alongside Craig Gordon, Hearts’ undisputed No.1, and goalkeeping coach Paul Gallacher.

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"I am learning so much off him every day,” Stewart said of Gordon. “He's a man of vast experience and has played in so many massive games. It's such a good opportunity for me to learn. I'm still young, so getting the chance to work with him and Bobby [Zlamal] and Paul Gallacher [goalkeeping coach] every day is brilliant."

Stewart shows plenty of maturity as well as ability. He took advice on board when he was young and wasn’t afraid to move down the leagues to make sure he was playing games and developing his skillset.

Career path and role models

"I wasn't really getting much game-time at Motherwell and I was turning 20 at that point," recalls Stewart of his early career. “My goalie coach, Gordon Marshall, gave me the tip to say, look, it's not a bad thing to take a couple of steps back to go a couple of steps forward. Albion Rovers gave me an opportunity to go and play every week and then I got back into full-time football with St Mirren, which was great. I'm always looking to take the step forward and it's a great move in my career to come to this club.”

So who were Stewart’s rolemodels growing up? “I loved watching people like Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor every week, and keepers like Fabien Barthez, but Edwin van der Sar - he was a big one for me.”

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You can tell the Glaswegian is keen to soak up every moment at Hearts and his current boss, Robbie Neilson, could not be more happy with him. He told the Evening News that he will look at extending Stewart’s stay at Tynecastle beyond January at the turn of the year.

Robbie Neilson’s verdict

"I thought he was brilliant,” said Neilson of Stewart’s debut. “He did everything that we asked of him - he kicked it well, passed it out well, had a few good saves, came for corners. I'm really, really pleased with him.

“Since day one, his attitude's been great, his energy's been great. He’s a very secure goalkeeper and he seems to be enjoying himself as well."

Stewart was recommended to Neilson by goalkeeping coach Paul Gallacher and he explained how the deal came about.

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"Colin Doyle went down to Kilmarnock and Harry Stone was out with an operation on his ankle, so we needed to bring another keeper in,” said Neilson. “So we were looking about and Gall knew of his time at St Mirren. We were looking for someone to come in from that age group, who would be young and hungry, who would want to push and train well.

"He is very popular in the dressing-room. Being a number-two goalkeeper is quite a difficult position because very rarely are you going to get an opportunity. You train all the time and need to be ready. I think he's enjoying working with Craig Gordon and Paul Gallacher as well.

More permanent deal?

"He's definitely added to the group and he's added to the dressing-room, so it's something we will assess in January. A lot of it will depend on what happens with Doyle, but I'm sure the boys would like to see him about and I think he would like to stay as well.”

No doubt Stewart wants to stay longer, too. When asked if a more permanent deal would be his preference, as chance would have it, Neilson walks right by. "It's up to that man there!” Stewart laughs. He’s given himself more than a fighting chance.

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