Three players missing as Hearts start pre-season

Hearts returned to Riccarton this morning for the start of pre-season with three first-team players missing.

Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 10:14 am

Captain Craig Gordon was absent alongside defender Nathaniel Atkinson and new signing Kye Rowles. All three have been given an extended summer break due to international commitments at the end of last season.

Gordon was in action for Scotland in World Cup and Nations League ties, playing his final match of the 2021/22 campaign just seven days ago against Armenia in Yerevan.

Similarly, Atkinson and Rowles represented Australia in World Cup play-offs which ended only last week when the Socceroos beat Peru on penalties to reach Qatar 2022.

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Hearts are keen to ensure the three internationalists get an appropriate amount of time to rest and recuperate. Gordon, though, is expected to return by the end of the week and resume training.

The rest of the club’s first-team squad reported for testing and initial assessments ahead of Friday’s departure for a pre-season training camp in the south of Spain.

Centre-back Craig Halkett is still working to regain full fitness after an ankle injury which needed surgery following last month’s Scottish Cup final.

Manager Robbie Neilson and his coaching staff will oversee sessions at Hearts’ training base this week. A more gruelling schedule will then take effect when they travel abroad. That trip also includes a friendly against Europa FC from Gibraltar on Thursday, June 30.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson with assistants Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest.

Meanwhile, nine youth players have signed professional contracts after graduating from the Hearts academy programme.

Zach Paris, Adam Forrester, Gregor Crookston, Kai Smutek, Kenzi Nair and Harvey Chisholm are joining the club full-time right now, while Rocco Friel, Mackenzie Ross and Bobby McLuckie will follow suit when they reach the age of 16 later this year.

It is a sizeable intake from the youth system as Hearts look to raise standards and improve the ratio of academy players who progress to become first-team regulars.

Frankie McAvoy, the club’s youth academy director, explained that the senior team must be the ultimate target for every new recruit.

“I'm absolutely delighted that a number of our players have been given a chance to step into the full-time environment. Hopefully within that environment they can flourish and become proven players,” he told the official Hearts website.

“Our aim, hopefully, is to get them ready for Robbie's first team. Murray and Kirky got a chance in the latter part of last season which was great to see. Now this group have a chance to push forward and thrive.”

Hearts sporting director Joe Savage underlined the emphasis on honing talent at Riccarton. “We want to be building our academy and producing players. With Frankie, Steven Naismith, John McLaughlan, and all the guys we have in the academy, we feel like we've got a coaching group that can really develop these players and push them into the first-team environment.

“These players understand the demand we're setting on them and the need to get to that level. We can coach them to become the players we know they can become.”

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