Hearts manager Craig Levein included two teenagers in his starting XI in the most recent Edinburgh derby. A full debut was handed to 17-year-old Connor Smith whilst Harry Cochrane also re-emerged in maroon.
Michael Stewart was previously critical of Levein when he stated that Hearts were bottom of the league table when it comes to academy players’ minutes. But that’s something which is of no real concern to the Hearts boss.
“The difficulty is not really how many minutes they play, although that is really important,” Levein told his pre-match press conference at Oriam.
“I think it’s when they come in to the first team, it’s the physicality and being able to look after themselves.
“That’s the thing with Harry (Cochrane) this year. He’s been used sparingly due to five different injuries because he’s been caught in physical challenges that he got. So once he’s stronger he’ll be able to look after himself a little better.
“Of course getting a taste of first team action really early can be counterproductive at times because they get frustrated when they’re not involved.
“For me, it’s also about letting the supporters see a taste of what will happen in the next two or three years, which I’m excited about.”
Another run out for youngsters may come in the Jambos’ last home match of the season, at home to fourth placed Kilmarnock.
Ahead of the game, Levein took time to praise the job Steve Clarke has done at Rugby Park.
“Steve’s done a remarkable job, and they set up really well in their shape as a counter attacking team which, at times, can suit going through to Celtic Park.
“They beat us at home earlier in the season and again we have to be wary about set traps for us to over-commit and stuff like that. But I’m a huge admirer of Steve’s and he’s done a great job there.”
The job that Clarke has done at Killie hasn’t gone unnoticed by the media, and supporters are touting Clarke for the Scotland hotseat. Having been there himself, Levein was quick to highlight any potential issues.
“It’s a difficult job for whoever gets it. We have some really good players but I don’t know if the players we have match our expectations, I’m not sure about that.
“It’s so different. And the downtime between a get together, for me or somebody who’s used to coaching every single day, is quite difficult. But I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Cup final places are at stake for Hearts players and the remaining league games are a chance to prove to Levein that they’re worthy of starting at Hampden Park against Celtic.
“Training’s been quite good this week but most weeks it’s good. We’re trying to win.
“We need to put on a better performance than we did against Rangers. That’ll be my first comment on Saturday’s match. And I’m hopeful that we can go out and show that in our last match at home.”
Hearts have missed their midfield maestro Peter Haring in recent weeks but the manager doesn’t anticipate the Austrian playing when Killie come to town on Saturday.
“I don’t think so. He had an injection last week but what I don’t want to do is push him this week and end up him flaring up again and rule him out of next week’s match. We might need to probably just leave him.”