DCSIMG

Young Hearts players thriving at East Fife under club legend Robbo

There was a distinct Hearts flavour permeating East Fife's home ground long before the first-team squad and a thousand-or-so Jambos fans descended upon Methil for a friendly match earlier this week.

John Robertson, scorer of 271 goals in 631 competitive games for Hearts, has been in charge at Bayview Stadium for eight months and has introduced to his club a small but potent slice of Tynecastle.

Featuring for the Fifers was goalkeeper Mark Ridgers and two fellow loanees, defender Matthew Park and striker Robert Ogleby.

The coming campaign will signal Park's second successive season with East Fife, while Ridgers and Ogleby will hope to follow in the footsteps of Jambos defender Dylan McGowan – last season's Riccarton-reared star in the Kingdom – in succeeding while on loan under Robbo.

"Ogleby and Park are on loan for six months," said Robertson, 46.

Mark Ridgers, we're just waiting. There's still speculation that Marian Kello may go to the Championship, so Hearts are saying, 'Look, can we hang fire on that.'

"We'll play him as a trialist in the meantime but hang fire just in case."

Robertson was particularly impressed with Australian 23-year-old Park, whose contract at Hearts is set to expire at the close of the coming campaign but who, at left-back, posted a sterling showing against his parent club.

"Matthew did great for us last season," said the East Fife boss.

"We said that to him: 'You've come, you've learnt, you've played real football' – go out and show Hearts what you've learned.

"I thought until he got his dead leg, he was terrific."

Even with the loss of Ismael Bouzid, the centre back position is one in which Hearts are well served.

Marius Zaliukas, Andy Webster and Darren Barr will all vie for two central berths in a back four. Ryan McGowan has also matured into a contender for a slot in the middle of defence, while his brother Dylan, a year younger at 20, is a prime example of how effective clubs like East Fife can be in helping to nurture young Hearts talent by offering senior football.

McGowan Jnr was on loan at Bayview Stadium last season and played 24 games for Robertson in the latter part of the campaign, scoring in one of those appearances and starring in many.

Robertson says Hearts offered to extend the loan to run for the duration of the coming season but that he himself vetoed the deal because the Australian under-20 international had progressed to a level that far exceeded that of the Scottish Second Division.

McGowan was subsequently farmed out to Aussie A-League side Gold Coast United last month, but Robertson was asked to take on another young defender, Park, and Wales under-20 striker Ogleby.

"We've lost Dylan to Australia," said Robertson. "Hearts asked us (to take him on loan] and we said 'at our level he's too good'. If he's going to improve as a player, he has to step up another level. That's what we hope to try and do with Rob and Matthew."

A bumper crowd of 1500 packed out East Fife's single stand, with Robertson half- joking that he hopes the gate receipts can form a kitty for more loan signings.

"Hopefully after the crowd the other night, the chairman might.?.?." Robertson laughs., before adding: "We're happy with the squad we've got.

"Would we like to add one or two more? It depends. We've got 19 players we feel are good quality.

"If Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown, given the size of their squad, don't fancy the young lad Templeton or Novikovas, we're more than happy to have them over here at Methil!

"Last year we were bottom of the league in January and finished fifth – another couple of weeks and we may have sneaked into the play-offs.

"For us this season, it's to improve and that means getting up to fourth or third place if we can.

"We're not going to shout that we'll win the title. It would be nice, but we've got a lot of stuff to achieve."

Before their assault on the Second Division begins, Robbo and his men prepare to face Hibs this Saturday in the latest of a packed pre-season schedule. 'The Hammer of the Hibs', as he is known, managed to aim a customary light-hearted dig at the Easter Road side following his side's meeting with Hearts, in which the Gorgie club fielded two wholly-different teams to contest each half of the game.

"I'm not so sure I'm as well-liked in the green-and-white half of the city," mused Robertson. "As I said to the lads, these are your two bonus balls for all your hard work – you get to play two top-class quality teams. What we didn't realise is they were both coming on the same night?.?.?."

 
 
 

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