Hearts youngster takes Ibrox debut in his stride

WHEN Ryan Wallace joined John McGlynn's Raith Rovers on a month's loan last October, he had no idea it would be a precursor to first-team promotion with Hearts. With just four appearances and one goal in the First Division to his name, the 19-year-old climbed off the bench on Saturday looking unperturbed amidst the Ibrox cauldron. In short, he seemed to have seen it all before. Except he hadn't.

Debuting at an Old Firm venue with your team 1-0 up and down to ten men is possibly as daunting as football gets. Wallace bore no hint of inexperience, however, after replacing goalscorer Scott Robinson with nine minutes remaining.

His time in Kirkcaldy was brief but clearly worthwhile, allowing him to test the first-team water before returning to Hearts for the real thing. His advantage lies in his outward demeanour, which is one of composure. But for the aptitude of Rangers' Allan McGregor, he would have doubled Hearts' lead at the weekend and the diminutive striker is now challenging for a place against Aberdeen tomorrow evening with Christian Nade suspended.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Just don't expect him to get overly animated about it. "I just go into training every day looking to do my best. If I get my chance, I get my chance and I try to do well on the pitch," said Wallace. "I'm pretty level-headed overall. I go in, do my work and go home. Hopefully the gaffer notices that."

The last one certainly did. "He was very calm and took things in his stride," observed McGlynn. "He never really got over excited about things and I found him very level headed and down to earth. I'd say that's a good thing for a young player."

"I'm just happy to be playing first-team football now," continued Wallace. "I was on loan at Raith for a month and I enjoyed it but I want to stay at Hearts and play first-team football. The gaffer told me to go on and work hard on Saturday and try to keep my place. Hopefully, I'll get another chance tomorrow. He told me to work back into midfield and make sure we keep a four across the middle. I had to work hard up front when we had the ball. At this age, it's about following the gaffer's instructions. If you go on and do well, you're a hero. If not, you simply have to keep going in training and wait for your chance."

Wallace wasn't prepared to let McGregor undermine his confidence and stressed he will not rue the chance of a debut goal. "If it goes in then I'm a hero but it didn't. The most important thing was we worked hard as a team and stayed together as a unit. We stayed in shape but, unfortunately, Rangers got that late goal. We couldn't do anything about it.

"We felt a wee bit gutted at drawing by losing a goal in the 90th minute. All in all, we're probably happy with a point. Coming to Rangers and saying you would get a point despite being down to ten men, I'm pretty sure we would have been happy with it. Only some small things let us down."

Sampling first-team football whets the appetite of any youth-team protg, and Wallace is no different. He joined Hearts aged 14 from Partick Thistle and has progressed rapidly through the Riccarton youth academy to become its latest graduate.

"Of course, I'm hungry for more," he said. "I just want to catch the manager's eye in training and hopefully get another shot. Even another ten or 15 minutes would be a real bonus. There are a lot of young boys at Hearts and they are all doing well just now. It's whoever does well in training leading up to the game that gets a place in the team.

"We have Aberdeen tomorrow and I'm sure the gaffer will treat it as a normal game. We will train hard, work on our shape and hopefully grind out a result.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I've been working with Gordon Smith in training, we encourage each other. We've played up front together and whoever does well gets their chance in the team. Battling it out with one another is part and parcel of football. You're always going to be against somebody. The gaffer always says to us that if you're doing well in training, you will play.

"He sat me down and spoke to me about three or four weeks ago, telling me what he needed from me. He said if you give everything and work back when you're a striker, you'll get a chance in the team. He always keeps his word and he's always truthful."