BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
CRAIG LEVEIN is adamant handing a senior debut to 16-year-old Anthony McDonald against Dundee was not a gamble – because the precocious playmaker is the closest thing the Jambos have to the absent Jamie Walker.
With Walker sidelined through injury, McDonald dazzled on his first ever outing for the capital club, teeing up goals for Isma Goncalves and Christophe Berra and displaying quality and confidence on the ball which belied his years.
While Levein did not expect to be fielding the teenager quite so early in his development, he was not in the slightest bit surprised to see him handle his baptism of fire following a string of sensational displays for the development squad.Remarkably, Hearts played for 60 minutes with two 16-year-olds in midfield, with Arnaud Djoum limping off to be replaced by Harry Cochrane. Lewis Moore, meanwhile, was selected on the left wing; a comparative veteran at 19.
“It wasn’t a big decision if you watch Anthony McDonald every day in training,” lauded the Hearts boss. “With Jamie Walker being out, we don’t really have another player who is like him other than Anthony, and he has been a standout at his age group.
“I’m surprised that he is involved at such a young age, as I am with Harry [Cochrane], but they are just good players and I think everyone saw that on Tuesday night. I believe in them and the rest of the first-team players believe in them.
“These boys train every day with the first-team – they aren’t being parachuted in from nowhere and the senior players don’t know them. They know them and trust them. They give Harry and Anthony the ball in tight positions and trust them to deal with it, and they do.”
The result on a bitter, rain-swept night at Tynecastle was Hearts’ second successive victory, while they have not tasted defeat in five outings as Levein begins to craft a more resolute unit.
“It was a good night for Harry and Anthony, but it was also a good night for the rest of the team,” continued Levein. “We kept a clean sheet, Isma [Goncalves] and Christophe [Berra] get on the scoresheet and they are feeling good. It’s been a tough couple of months, but I’m hoping we have turned the corner.”
There will, however, be a massive test of the Jambos’ new-found momentum when Celtic arrive in Gorgie on Sunday.
“I think it was a better performance than we had against Motherwell on Saturday and I’m sure that the confidence we gained from that [1-0] win was apparent,” added Levein. “We had some moments of really good football against Dundee and I’m hopeful that will help us on Sunday against Celtic.”