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Hearts malaise: Too young. Too much. Too late

Hearts are undoubtedly running the full gamut of footballing emotions right now, but the lessons of this season might well be the making of a few of their young players.

A dejected Jamie Hamill with the ball after Hibernian's late penalty condemned Hearts to defeat in the Edinburgh derbyPhotograph: SNS
A dejected Jamie Hamill with the ball after Hibernian's late penalty condemned Hearts to defeat in the Edinburgh derbyPhotograph: SNS

The lucky few who have the strength of character and mentality might in hindsight find it has made them better players.

But I really fear that for others it could ruin their careers altogether. That is how extreme it is. You could lose up to about half a dozen boys to the game because this was just all too much too soon. It wasn't the right way for them to progress and they just self destruct.

Clubs who develop players properly do it gradually. They don't give them too much football, and they certainly don't force them to play double football - playing first- team games and Under-20 football - in the space of a week.

There are probably one or two of the younger players who should be playing regular first-team football right now, the likes of Danny Wilson and Jamie Walker. But there is maybe an average of 10 young boys in the Hearts matchday squad or team week in, week out - when there should only really be about two.

Quite simply, they are not good enough to be playing there at this stage, and it is killing their hopes of progress. Confidence is being drained, mental and physical fatigue is kicking in and they are being hammered right, left and centre.

It was different at Rangers in the summer of 2012 because who were given a period of grace to sign experienced players and still had money to bring in a few.

Personally, I would have excused Hearts from playing in the Under-20 league this year. If you are hammering the club at the top end, imposing sanctions on them - and let's not forget they had to be punished -you also have to let the structure breathe at the bottom end. Instead, there has just been too much pressure placed on all levels of the club. No-one was being blasé at the start of the season when they picked Hearts to go down, and that is why I can say right now that the Tynecastle club will not beat the drop. I know Dundee did well and saved themselves in the First Division despite administration, but this was always going to be a whole different ball game with the sanctions they had to deal with.

No matter what system Gary Locke plays at Hearts now - at first he tried it with a lone striker, attempting to gather point by point, then in the last couple of games they have opened up and gone 4-4-2 - it is all just too much for his kids. The festive period was vital for them, but the gap between them and the rest of the SPFL Premiership has got bigger rather than smaller. We are halfway through the season and they are still on minus points and that says it all.

The Championship will be the place to be next season, with Rangers, Hearts and other big clubs all in the mix. Rangers will be strong favourites to win the title, but if they get their finances sorted out in time to avoid a further penalty, Hearts should make the play-off places, but they will then have to play a Premiership team, so it could take a couple of years to get out of the second tier. Such a scenario is going to test Hearts to the full, especially if the structure has been cracked because of the undue pressure which has been heaped on the young boys so early.

The penalty incident in the midweek Edinburgh derby involving Jordan McGhee reinforces that argument. At 17, McGhee, should be allowed to develop so he can be a first-team regular in a couple of years' time. But you can't tell me that an incident like that could ruin the youngster. He will be thinking he has done the wrong thing, and his confidence could be shattered. It is not his time to be there yet.

For the record, I feel Locke should be exempt from blame. He is a good modern manager, and you should judge him when you give him tools to work with, when he has a strong first team and tools to work with. But he has not had a chance.

CCTV is never going to stop all the crime in the world, but when you have it you should at least use it. It is the same with video technology in football, although you wouldn't have guessed it from the reaction to Jim Goodwin's two-match ban for the forearm smash which will keep the defender out of St Mirren's meeting with Celtic today.

Since then, for me it has all been excuses, excuses, excuses from the Paisley club. They feel they are hard done by. They weren't condoning it, but it was all about how to justify it, mitigate it, talk of trial by Sportscene or the fact that opponents Dundee United sent in the footage.

But it is easy for me: Jim blatantly tried to do the player and eventually got caught. Jim is a hardy boy and to be fair to him he takes his punishment and gets on with it. I just wish everyone else involved with the situation would handle it like that.

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