TEENAGER Kevin McHattie remains optimistic that his fellow Hearts youngsters can begin the rebuilding job at Tynecastle next season.
Hearts remain mired in financial worries just months after they were forced to turn to their supporters for help following a winding-up order launched by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over an outstanding £1.75 million tax bill.
Around 4,000 fans raised just over £1 million to stave off disaster then but the collapse of owner Vladimir Romanov’s Lithuanian bank Ukio Bankas has raised further fears. And after missing out on the Clydesdale Bank Premier League top six, manager Gary Locke has now been informed he will have to trim his squad yet further following the January departures of Ryan McGowan and Andrew Driver.
On Thursday, the club announced the contracts of Darren Barr and Gordon Smith will not be renewed. Skipper Marius Zaliukas also looks to be on the way out of the capital club, while left-back Danny Grainger has been informed his time is up too. But 19-year-old left-back McHattie – the heir apparent to Grainger’s defensive slot – insists it does not all have to be doom and gloom where Hearts are concerned.
Speaking ahead of today’s Rugby Park meeting with Kilmarnock – where tenth-placed Hearts will hope to rein in Kenny Shiels’ men, who are five points ahead in seventh. McHattie said: “With all the things going on off the pitch, that is obviously going to have an effect on it. It’s been hard on us as players but we did the best we could. But hopefully we can now rebuild. That is the idea with all the younger kids coming through. For the youths it has been great but we want to keep the most experienced players and get better next season.
“The top six is still the target for next year and hopefully we can look forward to a brighter future. For the time being, we have five games left and hopefully we can win them all and finish seventh. That’s what the manager’s expectations are.”
The Gorgie support have not enjoyed the repeated rumours about their club’s state of health this year but McHattie is glad the boardroom turmoil managed to open the door to the first-team dressing room for some of Hearts’ youngsters.
He added: “A lot of the younger lads have been sniffing about the first team and some have done better than others. I wasn’t expecting to get in the team so quickly. I was just focusing on Under-20s football. But the old gaffer John McGlynn gave me a shout, told me I was in and to try to do the best I could. So even though we’ve had the off-the-field stuff, it’s been good for the younger lads, definitely. We have thrived on this chance. It bodes well for the future, just as long as we do the best as we can.
“We are ready to go next season and hopefully the younger ones can prove that.”
Kilmarnock’s Rory McKenzie has refuted any suggestions that his team have nothing to play for as they face up to the remainder of the season in the bottom half of the SPL. Despite their own ambitions being limited to seventh place at best, McKenzie said: “A lot of people are saying there is nothing to play for but I don’t see it that way at all. We’ve got players playing for contracts and there is still a lot of money to play for in terms of places in the bottom six. So I see the game against Hearts as a big game.”