Hearts manager Craig Levein insists his fearless teenagers can help put Celtic to the sword – as long as they do not hurt themselves in the process.
Levein looks set to hand starts to 16-year-old pair Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald in Sunday’s visit of the 69-game unbeaten champions after being plunged into an injury crisis.
Jamie Walker, Arnaud Djoum, Aaron Hughes and Krystian Nowak have all been ruled out of the televised clash, while John Souttar is suspended.
Skilful winger McDonald only made his debut in Tuesday’s victory over Dundee and while Levein insists the youngsters they are good enough to compete against the likes of the battle-hardened Scott Brown, the former Scotland boss admits they are not physically ready to cope with the first team football.
He said: “In an ideal world I wouldn’t play them but with the problems that I have got, I will have to consider it.
“They are playing too early in my opinion because of their physicality. I would wait another couple of years, but they are so good on the ball and they are fearless.
“If they are fearless, then I feel it is wrong of me not to be the same and give them an opportunity.
“Having them train with the first team has given me the confidence.
“Also, it has given the other players confidence to pass the ball to them. They see them every day and they understand that they know what they’re doing.
“But I worry. When they go in for a tackle I wince. Harry got injured up at Ross County earlier in the season going in for a tackle that an experienced player wouldn’t go in for.
“They are just naive. Harry is very competitive and he will go in for tackles and you’re like ‘woah’. I would rather have him that way.
“Listen, the training is competitive – they’re the cause of it most of the time.
“If the situation arises where Harry or Ant play against Celtic, it’s another bit of experience that won’t go amiss, as long as they don’t get hurt. That’s the way I view it.
“I know that, when it comes to their ability, they don’t look out of place. Their game is all about taking the ball and passing it.”
Levein, meanwhile, insists he was ‘annoyed’ by Celtic counterpart Brendan Rodgers’ comments about Hearts in advance of the first game of the season.
Rodgers claimed that Ian Cathro, who was sacked as head coach just days before the 4-1 defeat at Parkhead in August, was not fully supported by the club in trying to introduce his own style and bring in his own players.
Then Hearts caretaker manager Jon Daly branded Rodgers’ comments as ‘disgraceful and disgusting’ and Levein insists he did not appreciate the remarks.
Asked if he had spoken to Rodgers, Levein added: “Exactly the opposite. Listen I was annoyed and I think Jon Daly was annoyed because it was nothing to do with him.
“We all were, it was nothing to do with Brendan. As far as I am concerned it was a while ago and there’s no point dwelling on things. It’s gone.
“I think Jon was annoyed so he was entitled to say what he feels.”