WHEN John McGlynn began to introduce a number of youngsters into the Hearts team earlier this season, the move was widely seen as making a virtue out of necessity.
With the wage budget being cut, the manager was regarded as having little choice but to give some talented but inexperienced players a run in the first team.
If McGlynn’s move really was akin to throwing a handful of infants in at the deep end of a swimming pool in the hope that a few could swim, he has his answer by now. They’re all still afloat, and thriving in their new environment. Callum Paterson may have been ruled out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, but before that mishap he had done more than enough to show he has a bright future. More recently, Calum Tapping has come into midfield and played with the sort of composure usually only acquired after several seasons. Jamie Walker is always dangerous on the ball. Billy King had an impressively adventurous debut against Dundee. Fraser Mullen has slotted smoothly into defence.
The successful introduction of those young players might make Jason Holt look like one of the old men of the side, despite the fact that the midfielder is still only 19. He made his debut in the last game of the 2010-11 season – against Dundee United, who Hearts visit today in the SPL – and after a short spell on loan at Raith Rovers is now firmly established in McGlynn’s plans.
Although in fact it is more accurate to say Holt has been part of the manager’s plans for a decade or more – since McGlynn saw him playing for one of Musselburgh Windsor’s boys’ teams. “He would be lucky if he was ten years old then,” McGlynn remembered. “There was him and a lad called Jake Moyes and I know Jake’s dad very well – he comes from Wallyford.
“Myself and [Hearts director of football] John Murray met with them and Dougie Holt, who was, and still is, at Musselburgh Windsor, and we had a wee quiet meeting with them and managed to get the two of them to Hearts. That was way, way back, at least ten years ago. But you could see the potential watching him play at Pinkie that morning I went to see him, and I tipped John off.
“Even at that young age, it was sticking out a million miles: you could just see he was a good football player.”
The natural confidence of players such as Holt has been helped by McGlynn’s rise to the position of manager. The boss knows their game well, so when he does promote them into the first team, he is sure they will not let him down.
“The young boys all knew John McGlynn has faith in youth and if you’re performing in training it’s only a matter of time before you get a chance in the Hearts team,” Holt said. “He’s given a lot of young people a chance. It’s great to play alongside boys of a similar age. We’ve all come through the ranks together and know each other. Hopefully we can keep progressing and get an extended run.
“The likes of Andy Webster and Marius Zaliukas have helped us massively, and Ryan Stevenson too. They have been rocks at the back, and any advice they give to you then you have to take it. Andy Webster in particular is a massive influence, because he’s been there, done it, at the highest level and if he speaks to you then you have to listen.”
Meanwhile, Dundee United manager Jackie McNamara has urged his players to build on their Scottish Cup victory over Rangers. McNamara said: “It’s been a good start and it gives us something to build on going into this game with Hearts. The lads have all responded well since I came in last week and it’s been good to have a full week working closer with them in training each day.
“This will be a very tough match against Hearts but it’s one we should be approaching with confidence. There were a lot of positives to come out of the Rangers game which we want to use to our advantage. We want to move up the table so it will be very important to start winning more games at Tannadice in front of our own supporters.”