Steven Naismith explains how Hearts B players will benefit from the Lowland League

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Steven Naismith has described the opportunity to play competitive football for Hearts B team in the Lowland League this season as a “brilliant opportunity” for youngsters to push for a first-team call-up.

He believes that the advantage of playing for Hearts B rather than being out on loan is that the connection to the first-team which means they can be called up by Robbie Neilson at any time.

The club’s football development manager was speaking after Hearts B team got preparations for their inaugural Lowland League season off to a flyer as they thrashed East of Scotland First Division side Whitehill Welfare 4-0 at what will be their Ferguson Park home in their first pre-season friendly.

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Naismith will take charge of the B team this season in Scotland’s fifth tier, with all home matches being played at Whitehill’s ground in Rosewell. A mixture of 18s and youth players on the verge of first team level made themselves at home and showed plenty of promise in front of a healthy crowd. Scott McGill’s early penalty was followed by goals in the second period from Makenzie Kirk, Finlay Pollock and Callum Sandilands as Hearts overran their hosts.

“It was good, it was a good run out for us,” said Naismith. “The bigger thing is [getting] minutes more than anything else; since we’ve come back we have worked on things more so for the B squad than the 18s on the understanding of what is required at first-team level and the style of play and what’s expected.

“Ultimately it’s about getting the minutes in the legs and coming up against guys who are streetwise, who try and play, and are grown men. A lot of the good stuff was what we worked on in training.

“As a club we need to have an identity of how we want to play and what we want to expect from the players, both with the ball and without the ball, and attitude. It’s our job to instil that in our players.

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“Our goals were good and when we got it right, it was really good. We played well and when we moved the ball quickly, they found it really hard to deal with us, and that’s got to be the aim for us all.”

Steven Naismith believes the Lowland League is an ideal platform for young Hearts players to progress to the first-teamSteven Naismith believes the Lowland League is an ideal platform for young Hearts players to progress to the first-team
Steven Naismith believes the Lowland League is an ideal platform for young Hearts players to progress to the first-team

Naismith is enthused by the prospect of competing in the Lowland League as he believes it will only aid the development of his young players by being exposed to a highly competitive set-up, challenging themselves in a new environment.

The likes of Scott McGill, Aiden Denholm, Cammy Logan, and Arron Darge, who captained the side, have all spent time out on loan to lower league sides in recent seasons, but Naismith revealed they will remain at Hearts and if they perform well, the platform is there to progress to the first team set up.

Naismith continued: “All-round for the younger boys who are coming out of the 18s and the boys that will play in the Lowland League, it’s a brilliant opportunity for them to progress and they’ve also got that connection with the first team.

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“For some of the boys that have played [on loan] at a higher level, the trade off of being in a lower division in terms of league, is that at any moment if they are doing well they can be put in the Hearts first team, which is ultimately the goal for any player. It’s exciting for them and it’s a great opportunity for them.

“For me, in my development as a coach, it’s now a competitive league and that’s different from 18s – as much as it is competitive it’s still within the youth bracket. When I am going away with the national team and I’m working with top end players, you get your ideas and you get how you like working things, and as a coach I see myself as much as I was as a player: I will put demands on them and make it enjoyable. It’s up to the players at the end of the day. If they want to make it, they will make it, and if they don’t they will fall away quickly.

“Nowadays the key is competitiveness. All our young players went on loan last season and played in competitive leagues, and that is what drives a player to improve. When I was younger it didn’t necessarily need to be competitive because there was a lot of first team players playing in the reserve leagues back then, but that’s gone now. Out of 18s you need to be playing competitive, in my opinion, to give yourself the demand as a player and a pressure of playing in front of a crowd, how bit it may be, and playing for three points.

“Every young player here has seen the club transition in the last two years to become something that is exciting and the next stage of that is to try and get as many young players as through the system as we can.”