March has been a month to remember for young Liam Smith. Not only has the 19-year-old Hearts defender impressed since stepping up to the first team to fill in for the injured Callum Paterson, he has seen his mature performances rewarded.
He was called up to the Scotland Under-21 squad this week but there was a glitch in the message getting through.
“It was quite funny because I was at the 20s game, watching against Hibs and Craig Levein said in the dressing room, ‘Congratulations!’ But I didn’t know what it was for because nobody had told me,” Smith recalled.
“I just said I’m not sure what you are talking about. And he said I would need to speak to Robbie. It was the morning after that the gaffer pulled me aside and told me and I was really pleased.”
It is a step up for the full-back who was happy to head out on loan last term to advance his learning and has been an assured presence in a young Hearts backline in recent matches. His three starts have returned three wins and three clean sheets as Hearts keep the pressure on the teams above them.
“I have enjoyed every minute and hopefully I have taken my opportunity. It has all happened quickly but I think, coming in, I have done quite well so that has helped me get the call-up.
“It has all happened over the space of a few weeks but I am really pleased.” The loan spell at East Fife has proved useful. “I think it helped me a lot. Defensively, you don’t really get what you get in league football in the 20s, where you don’t get the physicality.
“Physicality has always been something I have looked to improve on. My size and using my body when defending is something I want to get better at. Some of the Premiership players are big guys. If you can compete with them and match them, it can only help you.
While Smith is expected to feature again as Hearts welcome St Johnstone to Gorgie, he knows he will have to return to the sidelines when Paterson returns. But he is happy to bide his time, continue working on his weaknesses and prove himself ready if and when another chance comes his way.
“It would be great to be in the team all the time but I’m sure that when he comes back he will go straight back into the team and that won’t be a problem,” said Smith. “I will just take every game I get as it comes and hope to do well. I’m sure the future for Callum is bright. I’m sure he will move on to really big things and if that happens then I would be looking to step into his shoes.”