JASON HOLT certainly doesn’t subscribe to any theories about the impatience of youth.
The 20-year-old Hearts midfielder remained notably calm during the initial weeks of new manager Gary Locke’s reign as he was left kicking his heels on the substitutes’ bench. Now back in the starting line-up, he is eager to make the most of a vital opportunity between now and the season’s end.
Hearts will recruit new players over the summer once the Scottish Premier League lift signing restrictions placed upon the club for late payment of wages and bonuses. That is due to happen in time for the transfer window opening on July 1.
Holt knows new arrivals are due to darken the glass facade of Riccarton. He has heard all the rumours flying up and down the corridors of the club’s training ground about who might sign in time for next season. His aim is solely to make sure he remains firmly in Locke’s plans.
His first start under the new manager was at Kilmarnock the weekend before last and he kept his place in the team for Saturday’s tension-filled encounter at Dundee. With three games remaining until the campaign closes, Holt is perfectly placed to make an impression on Locke that will last all summer long.
He has had to bide his time to reach this stage, something he admits was difficult.
“When Gary first took over as manager, he said he wanted to go with a few more experienced boys,” Holt told the Evening News. “That’s frustrating on my behalf, but, at the same time, it’s pretty understandable. It’s really frustrating because I want to play, no matter what age or how much experienced anyone else has got. I’ve had to bide my time like a few other boys.
“I think I’ve been a bit later getting my chance under Gary than a few other people around me. I got my chance at Kilmarnock, we managed to win the game, so it went well.
“I think I’ve done okay since I got back into the team. The Kilmarnock game was my first start under the new manager. I’ve just been waiting for my time, trying to impress in the under-20s and then I came on as a sub and scored against Ross County. I was happy with that and it’s great to be back in the team. I just want to keep my place now.”
Did he ever consider the old knock on the manager’s door to ask why he wasn’t involved more often?
“You don’t want any disruptions or distractions. You just need to do well in training and wait for your chance,” continued Holt, betraying the sensible attitude which served him so well during his teenage years.
“If you’re not in the team and they win, there’s not much you can do because the team has done well. However, when you’re not in the team and they lose, it is quite hard. As long as you do well in training, you can just sit and wait for your chance. When it comes along, it’s up to you to take it. If you get an opportunity in the side and you don’t perform, you’ve got no reason to be in team the following week. It’s about taking chances and playing well.”
Holt can be satisfied with his contribution so far this season in his first term as a first-team regular. He has managed 19 appearances, scoring three goals in the process, and demonstrated that being promoted from youth team to senior level is not the daunting step many fear so much.
Now he must make the most of the opportunity in hand to continue his development next season. That means performing consistently over the remaining three games on Hearts’ fixture list to ensure Locke does not relegate him to bit-part player when the new campaign begins.
“Definitely, that’s the case,” he said. “In the bottom six people might think there isn’t much to play for. From our point of view, there’s still a lot to play for. The club want seventh place first and foremost. Personally, if I can stay in the team and do well between now and the end of the season, it stands me in good stead for next season.
“I want to finish the season strongly and make sure I’m firmly in the manager’s thoughts for the start of next season.
“Not just me, a lot of the young players here just now are desperate to be in the plans for next year. If we can do well in the games that are left, we’ve got every chance of being involved come the start of the new league season.
“I think new players will come in and that does present another challenge for everyone. All you can do is keep fighting because every day is a challenge when you’re fighting against your team-mates for a place in the team on a Saturday. All around you there is competition but that’s football, there will always be competition for places.”
Hearts sit five points behind their stated target place of seventh, currently occupied by Aberdeen. With two home matches against St Mirren and Hibs to come, the fight for seventh could be settled on the final day of the season when the Edinburgh club visit Pittodrie.
“Our focus is on winning games, no matter the reason, and we want to finish seventh in the table to be the best in the bottom half of the table,” continued Holt. “That’s our only focus.
“People can talk about Dundee or St Mirren fighting relegation and trying to stay in the SPL, but our focus is seventh in the league and three points. That’s our aim every week for the rest of the season.”