SCOTT ROBINSON shuffles uneasily in a quiet corner at Riccarton. Asked if his contribution sparked Hearts’ recent upturn in form, modesty takes hold of the teenage midfielder. “I don’t know about that,” he says, sheepishly. Statistics indicate he has been a vital contributor.
Robinson was a surprise inclusion in Paulo Sergio’s starting line-up for the 1-0 loss at Celtic Park on December 10. That defeat extended Hearts’ miserable sequence to one win in seven outings. Six games later, Robinson is still in the team and the Edinburgh club head to Inverness tomorrow having amassed five wins and a draw. The only match he missed was the draw, a 0-0 stalemate at Pittodrie.
His involvement in Hearts’ prosperity is no coincidence. Few 19-year-olds could show the assurance Robinson does playing in the upper echelons of the Scottish Premier League. Although he did have long enough to wait for an opportunity under Sergio, which is partly why he is unwilling to accentuate the part he is now playing.
Ask him how much he is relishing the personal change in fortune and he springs to life, almost like he is breaking forward from midfield. For four months he ran himself into the ground trying to impress his manager every day in training, only to be overlooked at weekends. Now, having proved himself, he is thriving in a midfield role ideally suited to his attributes.
Rather than laud his own efforts, Robinson prefers to express gratitude to those who have finally let him flourish. “I can’t thank the manager enough,” he says. “It’s because of him I’m playing every week just now. He’s playing me in a role that I really enjoy and he’s given me confidence to go and express myself. I’m loving it right now and I just want to stay in the team.
“When Paulo first came here he took all the young players aside and said, ‘look, I’ve no problem playing young guys’. He said he would play us as long as we showed him he could trust us and that we’d work hard for him. Now he just speaks to us all as part of the team.
“We have a team meeting every morning and the manager is very open with everything. He’s a really honest guy and he’ll tell you what he feels. I’m really enjoying working under him. I would trust him with anything, really.
“He’s spoken to me one-on-one and told me things about his background and his life and how it’s helped him. He’s just a nice guy. I’m really grateful that he’s playing me now and I’m loving playing under him.”
Sergio took time to suss out the young players at his disposal after replacing Jim Jefferies as Hearts manager in August. That left Robinson and others like Ryan McGowan and Gordon Smith frustrated on the substitutes’ bench despite them shining whenever they were granted game time. Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg of the Europa League play-off was a prime example.
There is little doubt that Robinson, alongside McGowan and Smith, is now considered trustworthy. “That might be one of the reasons the manager waited, because I’m a younger player,” continues Robinson. “Maybe he trusted the more established players at the start of the season but, now that he’s getting to know me more and know my game more, he’s maybe trusting me more.
“It took a good while to establish myself. Every day I used to come into training and I knew I wouldn’t be playing on Saturday but I just had to do my best in every training session. You’ve got to keep faith in yourself in a situation like that.
“Obviously I was down and my confidence was low because I wasn’t even playing bounce games. You just need to give it everything every day, and I did that. Even though I wasn’t playing, the manager still said he was happy with me and that I worked really hard. He seemed to like that side of me.
“Darren Murray, our under-19s coach, kept talking to me and told me to keep my head down and continue working away. He said my time would come and he was right. Paulo always said that when your chance comes, if you take it then he’d keep you in the team. He said he would be faithful to the players so as long as you do well on a Saturday he will keep you in the side. That’s what I’m trying to do just now.
“When I started playing he said I did well and he’s kept me in there. There are a lot of midfielders at the club so I’m delighted to be getting my chance now and I want to make sure I take it.”
Like any young player, a rest to avoid burnout is inevitable. “That could happen to me at any time, especially with the manager being foreign,” he says. “I think he trusts in all his players and he trusts in rotation. He believes whoever he brings in will do a job so I’ve got to be aware of that. But I’ll always be giving my best because I want to play every game.
“We’re unbeaten since that Celtic game and the team’s been doing really well recently. Confidence is high and we want to continue that tomorrow against Inverness.”
Hearts are keen to reduce the size of their first-team squad and dispense with some high earners to cut the wage bill. Robinson, a graduate of the Riccarton youth academy, is in prime position to capitalise on any voids.
“If players do leave, I’m delighted to be here playing. I want to stay here for as long as I can. I want to play every week and establish myself even more. There’s no chance I’d want to leave. Even if a club did come in for me just now, I wouldn’t want to go. I’m happy playing under Paulo. He’s shown a lot of faith in me.
“What I’ve learned this season is to do your best in training every day and, if you do get in that team, then try to stay there. It’s a horrible time when you’re sitting there not playing, I hated it. Training every day and not playing on a Saturday is no good. You need to take your chance and stay there.”
He’s certainly accomplished that but the burning question still remains. Is Robinson truly aware of his part in the recent uprising at Tynecastle? “I just look to do my best for the team and play my role as well as I can. It’s a team effort on a Saturday, that’s all that matters. As long as we’re all mucking in together.”