The future of Hearts goalkeeping laid out with a succession plan underway for the next 10 to 15 years

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Riccarton development policy has created strong prospects for the No.1 slot

Queen of the South's dramatic weekend Scottish Cup victory over Dundee United owed much to a young Hearts goalkeeper desperate to prove he can handle the big stage. Harry Stone is still only 21 and a fledgling graduate of the Riccarton youth academy. His cup heroics at Palmerston Park did not go unnoticed back at base.

Save after breathtaking save during normal time and extra-time marked Stone out as man of the match. Stopping Liam Grimshaw's penalty kick as Queens beat United in the shootout merely underlined both the expertise and bottle of the man on loan from Tynecastle. He has since been named star man in the SPFL team of the week.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stone is very much part of Hearts' goalkeeping succession plan. Regrettably, the day will come when Craig Gordon is no longer able to throw himself around Gorgie goalmouths defying Scotland's best strikers. Zander Clark doubtless hopes to step in permanently when that time arrives, but young upstarts like Stone and Liam McFarlane could force their way into contention. Stone has played eight times since joining League One Queens on loan in August, whilst 19-year-old McFarlane is a sterling performer for Hearts B team in the Lowland League.

The jump from those levels into the Premiership is considerable, so Hearts' development policy must be carefully constructed to allow both youngster time to gradually reach the desired level. There is no need to rush given the time-served keepers already in the first-team squad. Gordon, 40, is nearly ready to return after a double leg-break. Clark, 31, is fit and well and recently won his first three Scotland caps. Should anything drastic happen to those two, the veteran Michael McGovern, 39, is third in line. All three are experienced internationalists.

So Stone will need to satisfy himself with loan outings for now. Saturday showed he is using the situation to his advantage. "Sending Harry out was just about getting games. He has been round about the first team for a few years," Hearts head coach Steven Naismith explained to the Edinburgh News. "The conversation I had with him in the summer was telling him that we need to get him to a point where I can say: 'I can trust you to come in and play 15 games.' It's getting to that point without having that wee niggling doubt like: 'Harry has only played a few games, how is he going to deal with it?'

"We have some really top goalies at the club through the academy and it's vitally important that we get them ready. I think in the coming years we can have a couple of keepers in the first team who we brought through the academy. They could be part of Hearts for the next 10 or 15 years.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Stonesy has had experience of a couple of loans before which probably didn't go as well as we needed them to. So, for him to go to Queen of the South and get playing, he has had a bit of everything. He played a lot of games, was brought out of the team, had to deal with it, was out of the side for a short period and then got back in to cement his place again.

"Goalies are different because there is one place to play for. There are generally a couple of guys ahead of younger keepers and their development is slightly later than outfield players when it comes to first-team appearances. At the moment, we have three very good and experienced international goalkeepers at Hearts. It was always going to be tough for anyone coming through. That was part of the thinking.

"We felt we had to get Stonesy playing regularly. Liam McFarlane is another one who has had a really good season with the B team. We will look for a path for him come the end of the season. We want to see what can help him over the next year or two to make sure he is first-team ready when that opportunity comes."

Stone and defender Lewis Neilson were sent on loan this summer to prepare them for the Hearts first team. Neilson, 20, joined Partick Thistle and is impressing in the upper echelons of the cinch Championship. "In general with our loans, it's something we haven't been overly keen to do," admitted Naismith. "With the structure and set-up of the B team we are kind of forced into it at times. We had to think about what we were going to do with these guys.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I've worked closely with Harry and Lewis [whilst B team coach]. It was vitally important that they don't have six months or a year wasted which sets them back because I think both of them are really good prospects for the club.

"The moves they got are down to hard work from the clubs they went to and us as a club to find the right move - not a move where they make one mistake and get pulled out of the team and don't play for the next three months. That was vitally important. The loans have been really good so far. The bigger picture is that we would rather have them in-house, see them every day and give them minutes somewhere. As things stand, we don't have that luxury."

Two academy graduates Naismith does not intend loaning out are midfielders Aidan Denholm and Macaulay Tait. "I would class Aidan and Macaulay as first-team players now. We don't really want to send them out, we aren't interested in doing that. They are getting enough time here. Macaulay has still to make his debut but he is learning every day in training here. That's the trade-off."

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.