BY DARREN JOHNSTONE – Capital City Press
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson insists Liam Smith showed why he is so highly rated at Tynecastle after the teenager made his league debut against Dundee United.
Smith replaced the injured Juwon Oshaniwa after 71 minutes on Sunday and helped the visiting defence keep a clean sheet in a victory that was decided by Juama Delgado’s 16th minute penalty.
It was the 19-year-old’s second outing for the first team after the right-back also played in August’s League Cup victory at Forfar.
Smith spent last season on loan at East Fife and Neilson expects the full-back to become an integral part of his squad.
Neilson said: “Liam did great when he came on, he’s a good player.
“He is really good but the problem is that he’s got Callum Paterson in front of him at the moment.
“With Callum being suspended and us getting a couple of injuries he might get some game time.
“I thought he showed why we regard him as such a big prospect for us. He is a good player and he’ll definitely have a future at Hearts.”
Neilson faces an anxious wait to discover the extent of the hamstring problem that forced Nigerian left-back Oshaniwa off at Tannadice.
Hearts were forced into a double substitution after midfielder Miguel Pallardo also made way for Morgaro Gomis after sustaining a knock to his calf.
While Neilson is hopeful of having Pallardo available for Saturday’s visit of fourth place Ross County, it appears that Oshaniwa faces a spell on the sidelines.
Neilson added: “It looks like Juwon has a problem with his hamstring, Miguel has just got a knock but he’ll be fine. There will be no problem for next week with him.
“We’ll just need to wait and see with Oshaniwa over the next couple of days.”
Winger Sam Nicholson, meanwhile, admits he could not care if their narrow 1-0 victory over Mixu Paatelainen’s team was not a great spectacle after the Gorgie outfit collected their first Premiership win in six matches.
Nicholson, who won the penalty, said: “It was a really hard game, they just got their new manager so they were out there impressing, I don’t know whether that means they give it that extra wee bit.
“They made it hard for us and we’re just happy we came away with the three points in the end.
“Sometimes the most important thing is winning, it does not matter how you do it.
“We ground it out and got the three points in the end and that’s the most important thing.”