Why the return of lower leagues is good news for Hearts
With the primary aim of returning Hearts to the Premiership, Robbie Neilson has relied on experience.
Of the 13 players who have played most minutes in the Championship for the Tynecastle club, only one is under 25.
Andy Irving, aged 20, is the youngest player to have been used regularly. Of the other 12, five are 30 or over.
It is therefore no surprise that Hearts have the highest average age in the Championship of 29, just ahead of part-timers Arbroath and Alloa Athletic.
Loan spells have been vital for the younger talents in the squad to gain experience.
Neilson revealed last month that he is a “great believer” in the loan system.
Kicking their heels
Hearts currently have 14 players out on loan, although a large number have been unable to play since the middle of January after football below the Championship was suspended.
It has meant the likes of Harry Cochrane, Connor Smith and Cammy Logan have only been training and left kicking their heels at the weekend.
However, clubs in League One and League Two have revealed their intention to resume playing games on March 20 in a further truncated campaign of 22 games which involves a split.
It is the perfect news for Cochrane, Smith, Logan and Chris Hamilton.
Cochrane had impressed at Montrose, playing nine times as the Mo’ climbed the table prior to the shutdown.
For Smith and Hamilton, they moved teams midway through the campaign. The latter featured regularly in League One at Dumbarton before a switch to Stirling Albion, while the former had failed to hold down a spot in Dick Campbell’s Arbroath and joined Cove Rangers, managed by Hearts legend Paul Hartley.
Smith was joined by Cammy Logan at Cove. Both players were on the bench in a Scottish Cup clash before the season was suspended.
All four should rack up minutes between now and the end of the season with games set to come thick and fast, aided by being able to train full-time, while many team-mates are part-time.
Tough for the youngsters
Neilson had previously expressed his frustration at the shutdown, concerned about the players’ game development with no reserve football.
He said: "One of the key things for us in the January window was getting these boys out and getting them playing at a good level, hoping to get 15 to 20 games under their belt before they come back in the summer and push to get into the first-team.
"There's a number of players who aren't developing the way they should.”
He added: "They are in the gym, it gives them a chance to work on areas they need to improve, strength, pace. But definitely in terms of game knowledge it is difficult for them.
"I'm a great believer in putting them out to lower league teams and get that first-team experience in a dressing room and they are not getting that just now.
"It's been tough for a lot of those boys.”
As of yet, there is no clarity regarding the Lowland League and below with Harry Stone, Leeroy Makovora and more on loan outwith the SPFL.