BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Hearts star Sam Nicholson admits it was an honour to be scouted by Everton legend Joe Royle as he prepares to cross swords with the Toffees at Tynecastle.
The Barclay’s Premier League side dispatched Royle, an FA Cup winner as boss in 1995 after making 225 appearances as a player, to run the rule over the winger in last August’s Edinburgh derby.
Nicholson turned in a sensational display on the day, netting a solo stunner from 30 yards to inspire the Jambos to a 2-1 win over Hibs.
No firm bid materialised from the Merseyside club, but Nicholson will have another chance to impress Everton boss Roberto Martinez during tomorrow afternoon’s glamour friendly.
The Scotland under-21 internationalist: “A couple of my friends mentioned it, but none of the guys in the dressing room said anything about it. It’s definitely a massive compliment if someone like Joe Royle flagged me up.
“I suppose the Everton game is another a chance to show what I can do, but no matter who you are playing you need to go out to try and impress. I have to treat it like another game.
“I don’t pay too much attention to things like that. I just think about my own game. It was flattering but if nothing comes of it, it doesn’t make a difference to me, I want to do well for Hearts.
“Everton are a great team, a top side in the English Premier League. It’ll be a great test for us.
While there is little doubt Nicholson is one of Hearts’ more promising assets, his sole focus is on excelling for the Jambos on their return to the Scottish Premiership.
The 20-year-old played 26 top-flight matches during the club’s ill-fated 2013/14 campaign as the capital club were relegated against a backdrop of financial collapse, a transfer embargo and a 15-point deduction.
Nicholson was among a clutch of rookies such as Kevin McHattie, Callum Paterson, Jason Holt and Jamie Walker to emerge with plenty of credit during that campaign – but he wants points rather than plaudits this season.
He continued: “I’ve got a lot more experience now. The expectation will come from everyone watching the game, even the coaching staff, who will expect much more from us.
“I think that’s fair. We should expect more from ourselves. We’ve played in the league before.
“The teams we will be playing will be better. That’s a fact, but we’re looking forward to it and we just want the season to start now. Celtic have won the league, but even going out against them you want to beat them.”
Nicholson has previously spoken of his bid to bulk up ahead of the upcoming campaign, but admits he still bears the hallmarks of the ‘kung-fu’ tackle from Livi’s Jason Talbot last term.
He smiled: “I’ve got a scar on my head from it – it’s the first challenge I’ve been knocked out by!
“I’ve had a couple of wee dunts but it’s football. It’s going to happen and I can’t keep getting upset by it.
“Obviously I didn’t like the kick in the head but I suppose it’s toughened me up. The Premiership is still going to be physical so you need to expect stuff like that.”