Young players must handle Hearts fans' expectations, says Liam Smith

Defender Liam Smith believes young players coming into the Hearts first team need to be able to deal with playing under pressure from the stands.

Wednesday, 21st December 2016, 5:30 am
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 2:04 pm
Hearts fan Chris Dickson, 16, from Bonnyrigg met Liam Smith when the Jambos squad visited the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Pic: Ian Georgeson

The home crowd audibly voiced their frustration at their side’s second-half display during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Partick Thistle at Tynecastle.

Sean Welsh’s leveller soon after half-time pegged the Jambos back, who had taken a first-half lead through Bjorn Johnsen. The Jags then went on to miss numerous good chances, with Jack Hamilton producing more than one excellent save to keep Ian Cathro’s men on level terms.

Smith, who came in at left back in place of Faycal Rherras, thinks it’s something young players have to be aware of and able to deal with.

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“The club’s philosophy is to produce players from the youth academy and it’s been done over the last few years, myself being one of them,” he said.

“All the boys who were there at Saturday’s game will have seen it and can feel the atmosphere. If you can prepare yourself for that before you come in to the team then it can only stand you in good stead.

“You try and block it out, but when there’s 17,000 people there you hear and feel what’s going on around you. In fairness, they’ve got the right to be annoyed with our second-half performance, and it’s up to us to then handle that, push forward and turn the atmosphere around so it’s for us rather than against us.

“You don’t get many places in Scotland like [Tynecastle]. We’ve got one of the top attendances in the country and when it happens it’s not something you can really prepare for, but it’s experience of the pressure of the fans around us, and we need to turn it around so they don’t get on our backs.”

Smith revealed that Cathro hasn’t made major changes since taking over from Robbie Neilson. Although he doesn’t attribute a lack of wins in the previous two games against Rangers and Partick respectively to Cathro’s arrival, the 20-year-old acknowledges there will be a period of transition whenever a new boss takes over.

“Anything new can slightly disrupt what’s going on,” he said. “We just need to get used to him and he needs to get used to us. We just didn’t perform the way we should have on Saturday – it was nothing to do with the transition or anything like that. It’ll take time for us to play the way he wants us to play. Ideally, he’d have loved to have come in and got two wins out of two, but it’s not happened. We’ve got three big games coming up and, if we want to stick to that pack with Rangers and Aberdeen, we have to take points from those games going in to the winter break. First and foremost, we need to go and put in a performance against Dundee at Dens on Friday.”

With the January transfer window approaching, Hearts are likely to be anticipating bids for right-back Calum Paterson, who is out of contract in the summer. In Smith, Hearts have a ready-made replacement, but the former Under-20s captain would rather the Scotland internationalist was a Hearts player for as long as possible.

“You want your best players to still be at the club and Calum is one of them,” said Smith. “I’m doing what I can do to stay in the team whether he’s there for not.”