Why academy coach John Rankin is delighted with progress of Hearts youngsters

Hearts Under-18s jumped up to second place thanks to their 3-1 win away to Dundee United at St Andrews, but head coach John Rankin insists player development is a higher priority than league placing.

Sunday, 14th November 2021, 3:19 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 1:57 pm
Hearts Under-18s head coach John Rankin is pleased with the development of his younger players
Hearts Under-18s head coach John Rankin is pleased with the development of his younger players

Two first-half goals from the returning Murray Thomas and a late Mackenzie Ross strike wrapped up an impressive victory at St Andrews, making it five wins out of six for the young Jambos in the Club Academy Scotland under-18 league.

Thomas was only given 45 minutes having resumed training only last Monday after being out for six weeks with a hip flexor problem

Rankin rated the performance of 15-year-old Bobby McLuckie, who had his hand in two goals, as “outstanding” and was also impressed with Finlay Pollock.

The head coach said: “It gets to the stage where we’re winning games, and obviously that’s important, but the most important thing is about the player development.

“They’re developing in different ways. The pleasing thing for me is that we have full time players who aren’t even involved, because they’re in the treatment room, so we have the young ones playing, stepping up and being able to get results.

“They’re feeling comfortable in this environment and it’s brilliant. We’ve got 2004s playing with 2007s on the same pitch.

“The academy philosophy is to have that belief and the boys know what the team principles are no matter what level they play at, so it bodes well for the future.

“It’s great to look at the league table and it gives the boys a bit of belief when they see they’re near the top and they’re doing well.

“The flip side of that is that other teams see where we are and they want to beat us, so that’s something the players need to deal with.”

Commenting on Pollock, Rankin told the Hearts website: “He does really well for us. He’s getting back to finding his energy levels for us and has been able to play 90 minutes in games again, so that’s good for him after a slight injury problem.”

Hearts made a bright start and opened the scoring after only five minutes when a neat flick from McLuckie set Ross clear and he was brought down in the box. Thomas sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot.

McLuckie lobbed an effort the wrong side of the post to spare the United keeper’s blushes after a scuffed clearance.

The home side then carved out a couple of opportunities, the best of them producing an outstanding save from Hearts goalkeeper Liam McFarlane to keep out Stuart Heenan’s glancing header.

United spurned another couple of chances before the break and Hearts made them pay when Thomas grabbed his second.

Just five minutes after the restart, McLuckie squirmed his way through a challenge and crossed to the back post for substitute 16-year-old substitute Callum Sandilands, but he blasted over the bar from four yards.

United equalised from a corner 14 minutes from time when Aaron Donald powered home a header.

But the Jambos restored their lead on the counter attack. Skipper Callum Flatman rode a challenge and slid the ball onto Pollock on the left of the box. He crossed for Ross to tap home from point-blank range.