HE HAS been the teenage academy protégé. He’s done the going-on-loan thing to gain experience. David Smith is now 20 and eager to wear the T-shirt of established first-team player at Hearts.
Three key contributions at East End Park on Saturday indicated his promise. If he can maintain such form, the forward will emerge as a huge positive from the devastation wrought by administration at Tynecastle.
Smith delivered the corner from which Brad McKay headed Hearts’ first goal in the 2-1 win over Dunfermline. He was then fouled by Chris Kane for the penalty which Jamie Hamill converted to double the visitors’ advantage. In the second half, Smith’s angled free-kick was diverted on to the Dunfermline crossbar by Dylan McGowan. He finished as the game’s outstanding player. If those exertions are a portent of things to come, then Hearts supporters can be optimistic about what the player from Cumbernauld can offer.
The old adage that little should be read into pre-season friendlies is certainly worth remembering, particularly for a Hearts team which will begin the season needing to overhaul a 15-point deficit in the new Scottish Professional Football League. Administration has hit hard but for many Riccarton academy graduates it offers an unprecedented chance to make their name. Manager Gary Locke has a threadbare squad and cannot sign anyone due to a registration ban. Having spent all of last season on loan at Raith Rovers gaining vital experience of senior football, Smith is one of those looking to capitalise.
“I feel ready to play regularly at Hearts,” said Smith, who returns to Kirkcaldy tomorrow night when Hearts face Raith in another friendly. “I went and played in the First Division last year, which is a good level, and it’s given me the experience I need to play for Hearts’ first team. This is my opportunity and I need to go and take it.
“The manager said before the game on Saturday that I was on corners and free kicks so I just tried my best and it worked out. It’s a big bit of responsibility for me but, as the gaffer says, we’re all young and we need to win games this season. Why not start in pre-season? “The manager said we have a 15-point deduction and it’s a hard task but that we can overcome it.
“It could be the making of us younger ones. You see the opportunities we’re getting and you see how young the squad is. I’ve not really played much for the first team, but look at the opportunity I’ve got now. There are others I’ve played with at Hearts through all the age levels and you see the chances they’re getting as well.
“It’s a massive chance to play top-flight football and you need to realise that and grasp it. It’s hard playing at this level. Hearts are a massive club so that’s even more pressure. It is daunting, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
He certainly rose to it in Fife with a display of incisive attacking play. Smith explained the source of his inspiration.
“When you see the crowd singing during the warm-up like they were on Saturday, it’s amazing to play in front of that even in a pre-season friendly,” he continued. “It shows you just how big a support Hearts have, so you know you need to play for the badge. I always knew there was a big crowd behind Hearts because it’s a massive club. With our situation just now, the fans have got behind us superbly and Saturday showed how good that support is.
“We started off well. We thought we passed the ball well in the first half, had a few chances and took them. I was involved with the goals from the corner and the penalty. Dunfermline started to come into the game a bit more in the second half and it was them passing the ball and creating chances. They scored a good goal, but overall it was a good win for us and nice to get off to winning ways in pre-season.”
Smith’s sharpness is down to some extra conditioning work over the summer.
“The gaffer keeps going on about us being prepared for August 3 against St Johnstone,” he explained. “I want to stay in the team until then and build from there. I feel confident, I feel fit and ready. I went to Florida with my family on holiday and I kept ticking over by going to the gym and making sure I was ready for pre-season starting.
“I went out on loan last year when John McGlynn was the Hearts manager and it definitely helped me. We still had quite a lot of experienced players at the time and I wasn’t really getting a chance. As the season went on, boys like Jason Holt and Jamie Walker all started getting games and they proved themselves. While I was at Raith I was thinking I could go back and get a chance.
“I’ve had a few appearances now and, because of the situation, lots of people are getting to play. You just need to go and take your opportunity.”