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Last season the SPFL sanctioned that all top Premiership clubs had the option of putting their Under 20s into the Irn Bru Cup to give them more competition at the top level. And this season they did the same and most clubs gave their youth that opportunity. So how did they fair?
 
It was the top teams in the premiership like Rangers Celtic and Hibs that all went out in the first round and it is difficult to see why when you compare it to the lower clubs of the league who went through. Rangers, Celtic, Hibernian and Hearts are the only teams in Scotland to have their own training facility and those four clubs all went out in the first round.
(Annan Athletic pushed Celtic Colts aside 3-1 in the Irn Bru Cup)
(Annan Athletic pushed Celtic Colts aside 3-1 in the tournament)
 
It's not to do with the youth not getting opportunities. In the most recent Celtic game they played four players who are under the age of 20. At the tail end of last season Pedro Caixinha gave first team debuts to Rangers youngsters David Bates, Aidan Wilson, Myles Beerman, Jamie Barjonas and Kyle Bradley.
 
So why are the Under 20s teams failing? Maybe it is something to with the mentality of the players. Maybe players like Calvin Miller and Myles Beerman, who are getting call ups to the first team, think that they would stroll against the part timers of Dumbarton and Albion Rovers. But they clearly didn’t stroll as they were, in the end, quite comfortably beaten. From watching both games it was clear to see the gulf in class from the lower division compared to the Under 20 sides of the top Premiership clubs.
 
At both Rangers and Celtic the youth teams train with the first team once a week so are the youth not learning from the experienced pros in Kenny Miller, Bruno Alves, Scott brown, Craig Gordon and Kolo Toure? It is clear to see from watching the games that they are not.
 
Then you have the curious case of Hamilton. 83.5% of the Hamilton first team squad all came from their youth academy. So why can’t Rangers and Celtic follow suit. Look at the players who have come through the Hamilton youth set up most notably, James McCarthy and James McArthur who are now main states in the Premier League in England. Also their former manager Alex Neil who is known for bringing through youth player just got Norwich city in to the premier league not too long ago.
 
The main noticable difference between the Under 20s and the part timers is the physicality in the part timers. Players like Ryan Hardie were bullied off the ball.
 
Overall all Scottish clubs must take a look at themselves in terms of youth set up. When Scottish football can get their youth sorted then we might see a difference in the quality of the national team and maybe then we can qualify for a major tournament.
Monday, 28 August 2017 11:11

The Next Step: Young Terrors

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Every year across Scotland, a handful of young men fulfil their boyhood dreams when they sign full-time for a football club. Here at YFS we're putting the spotlight on the new kids on the block who've just made the grade from youth academy level to the professional game, as they make the next step in their promising careers.
 
If you were to ask a group of supporters which Scottish club has produced the best talent from their youth academy in recent years, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear plenty answers of Dundee United. Stuart Armstrong, Gary MacKay-Steven, Johnny Russell and John Souttar are just a few examples of the clubs best products, with the club also attributed plenty of credit for the development of Barry Douglas and Andrew Robertson, who both kicked on after being signed from Queen’s Park. 
There are plenty more promising young talent hoping to make an impact at Tannadice in the next few years and here are five players who have just signed their first professional contracts for the Dundee club. 
Luc Bollan 
 
Powerful 17 year old centre back Luc Bollan looks to be an exciting prospect, towering over many strikers at six foot and two inches tall. The son of former United player, Gary, Luc began his footballing development at Fairmuir FC and even played for city rivals Dundee FC before joining the United developmental squad in 2015. Luc, who has been capped for Scotland school boys in the Centenary shield is commanding in the air but also has the ability to play out from the back and presents a threat in the opposition’s penalty area. 
Declan Glass
 
Edinburgh born Declan Glass is a pacey number ten who is more than comfortable with the ball at his feet. The 17 year old also made appearances in the Centenary shield and was signed from Hutchison Vale by United after a string of impressive performances. Initially a Loanhead player, Glass signed for Vale after scoring twice against them in a losing effort in the 2013 Under 13 Stewart Brien Cup Final. Declan’s not only dangerous in open play but also brings a specific threat from set pieces. 
Kieran Inglis
 
Local lad Kieran Inglis attended St John’s High School, and the 17 year old knows the club well having been with United since the age of eight. The central midfielder has shown he is comfortable in possession of the ball and has excellent ability when it comes to dictating the game and setting the tone of a match. Kieran has been a part of the SFA performance school through his time in high school. 
Archie Thomas
 
Signed this summer from another well regarded youth academy, 18 year old Archie Thomas has found himself at Tannadice after leaving Southampton. Having begun his career at Torquay the Plymouth born midfielder spent the previous two seasons on the south coast. Comfortable anywhere in the midfield, Archie is not fazed by being put under pressure when in possession. Archie has already made his debut for the United first team, playing against Raith Rovers in the league cup group stages in July. United manager Ray McKinnon said to the Evening Telegraph: “He’s been at Southampton and he’s been training with the first team here and doing well”.
 
Jake Davidson
 
With the club from age nine, 17 year old Jake Davidson is born and bred in Dundee having played for his school side Harris academy alongside his development with United. Jake is primarily a centre back but his ability to use both feet allows him to play across the entire back four. Standing at just over six foot tall, Jake is a player that inspires confidence and calmness from the rest of his team and has already played for the Under 20s side multiple times.
 
 

 
Friday, 25 August 2017 10:24

The Next Step: Young Rovers

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Every year across Scotland, a handful of young men fulfil their boyhood dreams when they sign full-time for a football club. Here at YFS we're putting the spotlight on the new kids on the block who've just made the grade from youth academy level to the professional game, as they make the next step in their promising careers.
 
Raith Rovers are a club who have often looked to their academy and promoted promising young players.  These players have often broke into first team positions and have been fan favourites ever since. Players such as captain Ross Callachan, this season’s top scorer Lewis Vaughan and now Rangers defender David Bates all progressed through Raith’s academy. 
 
This season three young and promising players have graduated from Raith Rovers' youth academy. Whether the players will feature for the club's Development sides, go out on loan or even break into the first team it will certainly be a valuable experience that will impact the rest of their careers.
 
Euan Valetine
 
16 year old defender Valentine signed a two year contract and was part of the Under 20 side who won the Scottish Development League East. Under 20’s manager Craig Easton told Raith Rover’s website: “He’s a tenacious full-back who takes a pride in defending, but he loves to get forward and join in the attack and delivers dangerous balls from the left hand side. His attitude and determination is superb and he’s exactly the type of character we’re looking for at Raith Rovers.”
Euan Valentine started his youth career at Hutchinson Vale while he was 12 years old. He found success there and won the Under 13 Stewart Brien Cup.  
 
Kieran Dall
 
Another player who graduated from the Raith Rovers academy is 17 year old striker Kieran Dall.  Dall also signed a two year contract on the same day as Valentine and he will be a part of the Under 20 side. Easton referred to Dall as a “forward with good ability and excellent work rate who can play anywhere across the line” in an interview with Raith Rovers’ website.
 
Dall was playing in the Fife Elite pool and played for local Fife side Glenrothes Strollers.
 
Finally, Raith Rovers also promoted 17 year old striker Jack Smith from the club’s academy. Additionally, Smith signed his two year contract at Starks Park on the same day as Euan Valentine and Kieran Dall. Easton, when speaking to Raith Rover’s website, said: "He’s a clever striker that can score goals and also drop deeper to link the play.” Prior to signing for Raith Smith played for Easthouses FC, of Dalkeith.
 
Thursday, 24 August 2017 17:09

The Next Step: Young Steelmen

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Every year across Scotland, a handful of young men fulfil their boyhood dreams when they sign full-time for a football club. Here at YFS we're putting the spotlight on the new kids on the block who've just made the grade from youth academy level to the professional game, as they make the next step in their promising careers.
 
With Stephen Robinson now at the helm at Motherwell, he has brought in several new faces as he revamps his side for the season ahead. Despite this, many home-grown players like Chris Cadden, Allan Campbell and Ross MacLean will make up the backbone of the team that is focused on developing players and giving them a shot at becoming first team regulars.
 
Jamie Semple
 
Having made his Under 20s debut at the tender age of 14, Jamie Semple will wear the number 42 shirt this Season. The Bellshill born 16 year old forward attended Braidhurst High school in Motherwell which is an SFA School of Football facility. Semple has been at Motherwell for a large part of his career and scored his first goal for the Motherwell Under 20s in May still only aged 15.
 
It’s not just at Motherwell Semple is making his name, he is also making his name at international level having appeared for Scotland numerous times including at the Under 16s Victory Shield in 2016 where he scored a brace against Wales and just recently called up to the Scotland Under 17s. Having made so much progress at such a young age it’s no surprise he has attracted the interest of clubs down south. For now, however, Semple will begin his professional career at Motherwell aiming to break into the first team.
 
Kyle Macdonald
 
17 Year old Kyle Macdonald is another player given a pro contract by Motherwell. A hard working midfielder who has been at Motherwell since he was just eight years old. He has played multiple times for the Under 20s and was most recently in the squad with the Under 20s at the first round Irn Bru cup fixture in which the young Steelmen won 2-1. He has made an impressive rise to prominence in the Well youth system and has been rewarded with a pro contract at his boyhood club.
 
Speaking to Motherwell’s media team Macdonald said: “As soon as I found out I was being offered a contract I was over the moon.                                                                                                                                                              
“I hadn’t planned for anything else, I was fully committed to this and trying to prove myself at Motherwell and I’m just so happy now, I’ve been here since I was 8-years-old so it’s a dream come true to be honest.”
 
 
 
 
 
Monday, 21 August 2017 14:36

The Next Step: Young Dons

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Every year across Scotland, a handful of young men fulfill their boyhood dreams when they sign full-time for a football club. Here at YFS we're putting the spotlight on the new kids on the block who've just made the grade from youth academy level to the professional game, as they make the next step in their promising careers.
 
With Derek McInnes remaining at Pittodrie for another season, this could be the perfect opportunity for the club’s new signings to show the Aberdeen manager what they’ve got in their locker. Behind the big names however, there’s those who have signed their first professional contracts.
 
With squad rotation key for maintaining a good challenge in each competition Aberdeen will face, some of the club’s youth players may get the chance to prove their worth. 
 
Ethan Ross
 
After featuring for Aberdeen’s U20s side multiple times last season, Ethan Ross’ efforts have been rewarded with his first professional contract. A product of the SFA’s Performance school, Ethan also has a degree of international experience under his belt. The attacking midfielder featured in Scotland’s under 15s squad back in September 2015 and has been called upon again for the under 17s international tournament that starts 18 August 2017.
 
Former Aberdeen player, Neil Simpson spoke to Aberdeen’s Media Team about the youngster’s talent, he said: “Ethan is a midfield player who likes to get forward. He is good at finding little pockets of space to get on the ball. His first thought is always to go forward and he is good at making late runs into the box. Technically, he is a really good player. Obviously, he has a mentor in his brother Seb who is a year older and another player we have high hopes for.
 
"Patrick Maughan, our Youth Academy Sports Scientist, has worked on his physicality and I think when he becomes fully grown, there is huge potential in Ethan. He's a really good player.” The experience gained with the national side, could mean that the 16-year-old might just get his shot with McInnes’ squad this season. 
 
Dean Campbell 
 
Having been within the club’s youth academy since the age of eight, Dean Campbell is one to watch out for in the near future. The midfielder has won the club’s Statoil Talent of the Year for three years in a row, an award which recognises the best talent between the Under 13 to Under 17 age groups. 
 
His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed as he has been called up upon for Derek McInnes first team, making his debut in a defeat at home to Celtic. His introduction at Pittodrie back in May made him the club’s youngest ever first team debutant, at the age of 16 years, one month and 23 days. 
 
McInnes spoke to the Aberdeen Evening Express about Campbell’s debut, he said: “It was well earned by Dean, who is probably the biggest Aberdeen fan there is. 
“It will have meant a lot to him after being at school earlier in the day. 
 
“Hopefully it’s the first of many because he’s a boy we think a lot of.” 
 
The 16-year-old continues to work hard within the club’s Under 17s squad and has also captained the Under 20s side too. With a recent call up to the under 17s Scottish national side, Campbell has a bright future ahead of him. 
 
Archie Mair 
 
One of the most important factors for Archie Mair now that he has graduated from the club’s youth academy is the experience he will now gain training alongside fellow goalkeeper, Joe Lewis. The Aberdeen number one only joined the club in June last year, however, the experience he has playing for big clubs south of the border such as Norwich City and Fulham, will make him a great mentor for the 16-year-old. 
 
Mair, like his teammates Ethan Ross and Dean Campbell, has been called up to Scotland’s Under 17s squad for the upcoming tournament which makes this a great opportunity to show his worth. 
 
Speaking to Aberdeen’s Media Team, Neil Campbell, who won three Scottish Cups while at the club and is currently the Head of the Youth Academy, spoke of Mair’s talent. He said: “Every time I see Archie Mair, he seems to have grown! What's good about Archie is that he is the modern goalkeeper. He is fantastic with the ball at his feet, a great passer of the ball. He is a goalkeeper who loves to play out from the back when he can. He is a good footballer as well as a good goalkeeper. 
 
“Its early days but he has all the raw materials to be a really good goalkeeper- and he has also been involved at international level.”
 
While it may be too early for the goalkeeper to feature in the first team, a shot at Aberdeen’s Under 20s side could be on the cards for the upcoming talent this season. 
 
Jack MacKenzie
 
While the youngster has been plagued with injuries related to his knee in recent years, it does not over shine the potential talent the left back has in store. Jack started well in the 16/17 season, winning the club’s Statoil Talent of the Month award for his efforts at the back. 
 
Neil Campbell spoke to the club’s media regarding winning the award, he said: “Jack has really impressed everyone with his displays since the start of the season. His defending, use of the ball and forward runs in the final third have been a highlight of his play.”
 
The 17-year-old also won the The John Delday Award for the Under 17s last season, a prize that rewards exceptional standards, with specific emphasis on creativity and technique. A lot of the previous winners of these awards have gone on to be successful professionals for the club so there is no reason that MacKenzie can’t follow this trend. 
 
With the ability to also play in midfield, Derek McInnes could call upon the player due to his flexibility of position in the tough stages of the season. 
 
Friday, 18 August 2017 10:38

SPFL Hot Prospects: Dundee United

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Who is Scottish football’s next big thing? Who could be the next James McFadden or Andy Robertson? Here at Youth Football Scotland we’re casting our eye over the main SPFL teams to find just who’s on the cusp of breaking out.
 
As the new season begins in the Scottish Championship it is a certainty all managers will be deeply analysing their squads. More often than not managers will then look to the transfer market to bolster their squads, however often that is not necessary. Sometimes the answer to a problem with the first team squad such as an injury or a high profile departure lies within the ranks of the squad itself.
 
A fine example of a club who have done this is Dundee United. The Tangerines have made sure that they put the excellent academy they have to use, the same academy which produced promising Scottish talent such as Ryan Gauld and Stuart Armstrong. This strong youth policy has certainly been a strong asset to the Arabs as they’ve never failed to give determined young players a chance – even if they lack first team experience.
An example of a successful graduate of the Dundee United academy is left-back Jamie Robson. 19 year-old Robson made his debut for United in September 2015 when, then Dundee United boss, Jackie McNamara started him in a 3-1 League Cup victory against lower league competition in the form of Dunfermline. Since then he has impressed spectating Dundee United fans with mature and steady displays from the full back positon. In fact, some fans have even compared him to such United greats as Maurice Malpas and Frank Kopel.
 
Robson attended Blairgowrie High School and lived in Perth while he was of course playing football. During his youth career he played for Coupar Angus Boys Club while still having ties with Rangers and Dundee Football Club. In 2011, when Robson was 12, he made the short switch from Dundee to Dundee United and then signed professionally in 2014. In January 2016 Robson went on loan to then League One side Brechin City after he had committed his future to the Arabs by signing a contract extension. At the time of writing this, Robson has made 34 appearances for Dundee United, fans will certainly be hoping he continues to be a stalwart in the Arabs’ defence.
Much closer to Tannadice is fellow Dundee United academy graduate Scott Allardice who has also had an impact on the first team. Like Robson, Allardice is also 19 years old however he plays as a defensive midfielder. Allardice has been described by fans as a player with an excellent ability to pass the ball, however he is also known to show his physical side and get into tackles. Unfortunately the opportunity to impress the Dundee United faithful was bitter-sweet as he was injured shortly after his debut and tragically missed 13 months of football.
 
Allardice is sure to be a favourite as he is a born and bred Dundonian. He attended St. John’s High School while playing for Dundee Rovers and Celtic Boys Club early in his youth career.  After leaving school Allardice signed for United in 2014 and has since made five appearances. 

 
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 15:35

The Next Step: Young Bairns

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(Photo copyright of Ian Sneddon, Falkirk FC)

Every year across Scotland, a handful of young men fulfill their boyhood dreams when they sign full-time for a football club. Here at YFS we're putting the spotlight on the new kids on the block who've just made the grade from youth academy level to the professional game, as they make the next step in their promising careers. Here, focus is on Falkirk FC.

Falkirk is without doubt one of Scotland’s most productive clubs in terms of youth development. Having produced millions of pounds worth of homegrown talent and reaching multiple Scottish Cup semi-finals and finals, the Bairns’ academy mantra of "Nothing but the best" has been lived up to.

With recent academy graduates such as Craig Sibbald and Peter Grant establishing themselves as stars in the first-team, and players such as Scott Arfield and Stephen Kingsley reaching both the Premier League and International stage, the next generation of Bairns are on their own path to make the step up. We take a look at some of the brightest talents paving their way into the Falkirk academy.

Connor McBride

McBride can best be described as a pacy forward, who constantly presses defenders and puts them under pressure. He displayed his ability at international level back in February, when he netted the only goal in Scotland under 16’s 1-0 win over Croatia at the Oriam Centre. He was also a key player in the Falkirk side which reached the final eight of the SFA Youth Cup in the previous campaign.  

The former Scotland under-16 international recently earned a call-up to the Scotland under 17’s side for a tournament at St George’s Park this month, merely a few months after signing his first professional contract for the Bairns.

One of six graduates from the Forth Valley academy, the 16-year old featured on several occasions for the development side last term and will look to increase his importance to the team after signing his first professional contract.

Jason Jarvis

The teenage midfielder was a regular feature in last season’s development side for Falkirk and recently signed his first professional contract in the summer. Jervis, who played school football for Broughton High School, was once a youth player at Hibernian during his early teens.

Described as an attacking threat from midfield, Jervis scored his first goal for the development side against Hearts on his return to Edinburgh. Speaking to Falkirk TV, Jervis said: “It’s a good experience (to play in the development side) and it has given me a head start over other boys.”

Jarvis made his first-team debut in a pre-season friendly during the summer, coming on as a substitute in a 3-2 win over East Stirlingshire. He will be hoping to solidify his spot in the development side this upcoming season, and may even have his sights set on a first-team cameo at some point.

 

 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 14:11

The Next Step: Young Killie

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Every year across Scotland, a handful of young men fulfill their boyhood dreams when they sign full-time for a football club. Here at YFS we're putting the spotlight on the new kids on the block who've just made the grade from youth academy level to the professional game, as they make the next step in their promising careers. Here, focus is on Kilmarnock FC.

A strong youth policy has helped Kilmarnock retain their Scottish Premiership status over recent seasons, so who is going to be the next Greg Kiltie or Greg Taylor to break through to the first team at Kilmarnock?

Curtis Lyle

The 17 year old shot stopper from Mauchline, recently signed a two year deal with the club meaning that at the end of the deal he will have been at the club for nine years. He joined as a ten year old and has progressed up through the clubs youth systems all the way to the Under 20s. During his time at the club he also attended Mauchline academy and played for the school team, helping the school reach the Under 14 Ayrshire SFA League Cup Final in 2013. A game which Lyle made a number of great saves, but his side narrowly lost 1-0 to Grange Academy. He has been around the first team since 2016 and featured on the bench three times last season but is yet to make his first team debut.Despite struggling to breakthrough to the first team he has cemented his place in the Under 20s side that managed to reach the semi-final of the u20’s Cup. This season he has been heavily involved in the first team's pre-season and has featured once on the bench in competitive games. This being in the 4-2 home win over Clyde in the League Cup group stages.  With Jamie McDonald, and Cammy Bell returning to the club, the young goalkeeper might struggle for first team minutes, but he will certainly be intent on making his mark on Killie’s first team this season.

Aidan Wilson

The centre half also signed a two year deal in the summer and will be looking to add youthfulness into an ageing Killie back line. 18 year old Wilson will wear the number 41 shirt this season and attended the Grange Academy in Kilmarnock. As a teen he played the majority of his football in Kilmarnock and captained local side Crosshouse before he joined St Mirren. However, he soon returned to playing his football in Kilmarnock joining the Under 17 side and was another key player to the side of who reached the semi-final of Under 20s cup. Growing up and playing the majority of his football in Kilmarnock he will be dreaming of donning the famous blue and white and perhaps one day captain his home town side.

 

Aidan Wilson

 

Ewan McLevy
 
Another Grange Academy graduate, Ewan Mclevy is a full back/winger is known for his versatility in either wing or left or right back. He has has been part of the Scotland set up playing with the under 15’s squad in 2015 in the Tri-Series Tournament in Qatar.He will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of current Killie wing back Greg Taylor and break through into the first team from the academy. On his contract Mclevy said on social media: “Delighted to have signed my first full time contract with Kilmarnock FC, can’t wait to get started”.
 
Ewan Mclevy
 
Oliver McDonald
 
17 year old McDonald attended Braidhurst high school in Motherwell. Where the midfielder was a regular for the school team and a trophy winner. He helped his school win the Scottish Schools Under 13 Shield with a 3-1 win over Craigmount High School in 2012. Soon after this success he joined Kilmarnock from Motherwell aged 14 and was again another key cog to the semi-final reaching side, scoring in both of the rounds before the semi-final. The young attacker will remain at the club until 2019 and will look to use that time follow in the footsteps of club icon Kris Boyd and break into the first team from the youth set up. 
 
Innes Cameron
 
Another fantastic talent who has been discussed in the Kilmarnock Edition of SPFL hot prospects.
 
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 12:28

SPFL Hot Prospects: Hibernian

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Who is Scottish football’s next big thing? Who could be the next James McFadden or Andy Robertson? Here at Youth Football Scotland we’re casting our eye over the main SPFL teams to find just who’s on the cusp of breaking out.

Here, we provide some insight on the exciting prospects at Hibernian FC.

One of the Hibees stand-out youngsters is Edinburgh-born Ryan Porteous. With the build and maturity of a season-professional, it is scarcely believable that the center-back is just 18 years of age.

Porteous has already gained a reputation as a tough-tackling throwback of a defender, who is more than capable of playing out from the back, and has already three times for Neil Lennon’s side in this season’s Betfred Cup, scoring a brace against Arbroath in the group stages.

Porteous, who hails from Dalkeith, enjoyed a fruitful spell at League Two outfit Edinburgh City last season, featuring on 24 occasions and scoring three goals as he helped The Citizens to secure their SPFL safety. His goal against Annan Athletic helped City to secure their first ever victory in the SPFL.

 The young defender could easily have struggled against experienced strikers at just 17 years old, but he was a standout in Gary Jardine’s side, with the manager hailing his leadership abilities, composure on the ball and maturity.

A Scotland Under 19 international, Porteous appears to be in good hands, working as an understudy to experienced defenders such as Efe Ambrose and Paul Hanlon. The lifelong Hibs fan looks destined to have a bright future ahead of him.

Another Hibs youngster making an impact in the first team is Porteous’ teammate Fraser Murray, who hails from along the M8.

At just 16 years of age, Murray made his Hibernian debut in a Challenge Cup tie against Turriff United, opening the scoring in a 3-0 win for the Hibees.

He had to wait until April for his next first-team appearance and League debut for Neil Lennon’s side against Raith Rovers, and this debut was even better. Murray was the star of the show as he pulled the strings in midfield and was unlucky not to find his name on the scoresheet, also picking up the man-of-the-match award as a bonus.

Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News after the match, manager Neil Lennon was full of praise for Murray: “To make a debut like that at 17, it augurs well. I’m not going to get carried away but we know we’ve got a good player there and he showed all his qualities.”

The Glasgow-born teenager possesses a quality which is both difficult to find in football and extremely valuable; goals from midfield, scoring twice in Hibernian’s Betfred Cup group stage with goals against Alloa Athletic and Montrose. In just 8 games for the first team he already has an impressive three goals under his belt. With this form, it will be difficult to leave him out of the side.

Monday, 14 August 2017 16:48

SPFL Hot Prospects: Hearts

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Who is Scottish football’s next big thing? Who could be the next James McFadden or Andy Robertson? Here at Youth Football Scotland we’re casting our eye over the main SPFL teams to find just who’s on the cusp of breaking out.
 
Signing players has become an increasingly important factor in the Scottish leagues with Celtic running away with the titles year in year out, the rest doing their best to close the gap. However, at times the very talent needed to get results can be found within the club itself. 
 
Hearts in the past turned to their youth in the season that saw them win the Championship title under Robbie Neilson. This turned out to be a great decision as the team continued to impress under this philosophy upon their return to the Premiership. 
 
Now with the departure of Ian Cathro, the club may seek to return to this model which brought them success in the past. Giving the young players a better chance than any to make their mark in the first team. 
Joining the club at the age of 14, Liam Smith has been doing his bit to make sure he is noticed by the first team, especially now since he's been sent out on loan to St Mirren. The full back who is comfortable playing on both sides has captained the Under 20s side for two seasons and has also featured for the Under 21 Scotland side.
 
The 21-year-old born in Dalgety Bay made his first team debut on the August 20 2014 and has gone on to make 39 first team appearances, 17 of which have been for Hearts. Spending periods on loan with East Fife and Raith Rovers, Smith has improved over the seasons. 
 
Former head coach Cathro spoke to the Edinburgh Evening News about Smith perhaps spending this season on loan saying: “Whatever happens with Liam, it will be a collective thing. It will be a decision I can control regarding what’s best for the squad and the development of the player.” The season-long loan to the Buddies will provide Smith with the chance to experience first-team football
 
Smith enjoyed spells with Hillfield Swifts Boys Club and Rangers before he signed for Hearts. With the Tynecastle club conceding 54 goals last season, the youngster could be the answer to solving problems at the back. 
 
 
Although defence is key to seeing out results, an attacking prowess is just as important. That's why Alistair Roy's loan spell with Dumbarton this season is so important. Game time for the 20-year-old will allow him to develop into a more established striker in a tough Championship league. 
 
Born in Airdrie, Roy signed for Hearts in 2014, joining from Kilsyth Rangers. He made his competitive debut soon after against Livingston when he was just 17. Three years on and the forward has enjoyed loan spells with East Stirling and Stenh'semuir, beginning his third loan spell this season with Dumbarton and featuring for Hearts’ under 20 side last season too. Back in May he extended his contract with the Edinburgh side, keeping him at the club until 2019. His tall attacking presence makes him difficult to defend against and if he has a successful spell with Stephen Aitken’s side, his return to Hearts’ first team may not be so far away.

 
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