DROPPED by Hearts at the weekend, Jason Holt faces the fight of his young life with the clock ticking. It is less than two weeks until the Scottish Communities League Cup final – a game the 20-year-old is desperate to play in. To do so, he must force his way back into the starting line-up and make an instant impression, either against St Johnstone tonight or Hibs on Sunday.
The departure of Hearts manager John McGlynn and the change to a 4-4-2 formation conspired against Holt last week. He was sacrificed from midfield and watched Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Motherwell as an unused substitute as Gary Locke took interim charge. It wasn’t pleasant viewing, for as well as being a promising youngster eager to play, Holt is also a lifelong Jambo.
He had started eight games in succession since the winter break and was influential in the League Cup semi-final win over Inverness. He was arguably even more impressive in last month’s 2-2 draw with Ross County. However, the player now finds himself on the fringes of the squad and endeavouring to re-establish himself.
“It’s definitely the wrong time to be out of the team,” said Holt, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “Any player not in the team just now wants to get in there. St Johnstone comes up first tonight and then there’s the derby at Easter Road – it doesn’t come much bigger than a game like that. Then there’s the cup final. I’ll keep fighting and trying to do well in training to prove a point.
“I was 100 per cent fit at the weekend, I think it was just the change in formation. That happens in football and I was disappointed, but I’m a team player and I want the team to do well. I was in this situation of having to fight my way into the team at the start of the season. I wasn’t playing then and I had to battle to get into the side. I had a decent run, which was good for me, now I have to fight for my place again and that’s what I’ll do.”
His attitude is commendable. Whilst others may have a tendency to sulk when left out, Holt shows his maturity by using it as motivation. He has coped admirably during a turbulent first season as a regular at senior level. The 2012/13 campaign has been a steep learning curve for all Riccarton youth academy graduates promoted to the first team as financial issues, player departures and, most recently, the manager’s sacking have provided plenty distractions.
“There have been a lot of learning curves this season for a lot of us – the situation the club is in, and having to come into the first team at a young age. It’s great getting young boys into the team, it can only be a good thing. It’s a lot to learn, though, and you need to get on with it.”
Indeed, it may be next season before the youths fully realise their potential. Hearts sit 11th in the Scottish Premier League with turmoil having taken its toll on results. Holt acknowledged the need for a quick turnaround, whilst admitting patience is vital for himself and his teenage colleagues.
“You could look at it that this season is just about getting experience and getting first-team games under your belt,” he said. “Next season you will come into games with a lot more confidence. We are still confident in games at the moment, but next year could be a big one for a lot of the younger boys.
“It’s good with all the young boys coming through, but we need results. We haven’t been getting them recently and we feel the same disappointment as the fans. You can understand their disappointment and anger at times, but if they can stick with us and have patience then hopefully it will improve. Everyone is used to seeing Hearts further up the table and challenging in the top six. Getting into the top half of the table is still possible just now and we aren’t going to stop fighting.”
Seeing McGlynn relieved of his duties last week shocked many of the young Hearts players, who progressed through the club’s youth academy with Darren Murray a constant influence on their development. McGlynn lasted eight months in charge after being appointed last summer and Holt revealed that even the younger players felt partially responsible for his exit.
“It was just a bit of a shock for the younger boys because it’s the first time we’ve really experienced something like that. We aren’t used to managers leaving,” he continued. “The mood was a bit down when the gaffer left. You do feel collectively responsible. There’s only so much a manager can do, it’s the players who cross the white line. John was great to a lot of the young boys and we’re thankful for everything he did for us.
“We had a game quickly so we needed to pick ourselves up. Lockie and Darren are in charge just now so we will do our best for them and see what the future brings for the club. They took charge on Thursday and Friday and it was mainly about keeping the lads upbeat and making sure spirits were high. We didn’t want the heads to go down, so that’s what they focused on. We went into Saturday’s game confident and, although the result wasn’t the best, I think the second-half performance was something to be positive about.”