Hearts V St Johnstone at Tynecastle Stadium : Match Preview

18 March 2016
Hearts V St Johnstone - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Liam Smith grateful for Hearts opportunity

Liam Smith was rejected by Rangers for being too small but the young Hearts player insists his Light Blues exit helped pave the way for his big chance at Tynecastle.

The 19-year-old right-back has taken advantage of Callum Paterson's recent shoulder injury to grab a slot in Robbie Neilson's team and is set to face St Johnstone in the Ladbrokes Premiership on Saturday.

The Dalgety Bay teenager has impressed after starting the Jambos' last three matches, helping the Gorgie men to three clean sheets.

And his reward has been swift, with Ricky Sbragia this week handing him a surprise call-up to the Scotland Under-21 squad for this month's European Championship qualifiers with France and Northern Ireland.

It is also testament to his determination to succeed after being axed from the Murray Park youth ranks aged just 14 after doubts were raised about his small frame.

But rather than feeling bitter about his Rangers exit, Smith prefers to focus on the fact it handed him his opportunity to grow into a first-team contender at Tynecastle.

He told Press Association Sport: "I was at Rangers until I was 14 but I was released. I think being too small had something to do with it.

"I signed for Hearts after that but I actually played an age group down because I wasn't as big as the other guys my age at that time. That was a new rule which got brought in and it helped me a lot.

"I never let what happened at Rangers affect me because at that age, you know there is such a long way to go to make it as a footballer.

"As soon as I left Rangers I was straight in the door at Hearts, so it wasn't like I was without a club and wondering if I'd ever get another chance.

"But I have always known that physically I'd need to improve and even now I still make sure I work hard in the gym.

"I don't look at leaving Rangers and coming here as a bad thing. I've progressed a lot and done well so I don't look back on it negatively."

Neilson will welcome defender Igor Rossi back to his squad after the Brazilian centre-back missed the 1-0 win over Dundee last weekend with a groin complaint.

Paterson (shoulder) and Soufian El Hassnaoui (knee) remain on the sidelines but Smith will continue to deputise.

"It's been brilliant to have been involved recently," he said. "I wasn't expecting to come in as Callum has been doing so well. But after his injury I've taken my chance.

"It's an easy team to come into because everyone is doing really well. As a back four, we've been performing brilliantly which helps."

While Smith is just starting out, St Johnstone's Steven Anderson is set to break his club's appearance record and Murray Davidson has backed his team-mate to play far more than 362 games for the Saints.

Anderson matched former goalkeeper Alan Main's record of 361 during Wednesday night's draw with Ross County and the former Dundee United trainee will set an all-time record if he plays against Hearts on Saturday.

Davidson said: "He will overtake Alan Main's club appearance record against Hearts and that is brilliant. It is an achievement he should be extremely proud of.

"He doesn't say much about it but it will be something to look back on when his career is over.

"But Ando is only 30 and one of the fittest lads in the team. He looks after himself so he will put some distance between himself and Alan's number before he calls it a day."

Anderson and Davidson are one of a number of stalwarts in the St Johnstone team who are looking to secure a fifth consecutive top-six finish, a group which also includes the likes of Chris Millar and Dave Mackay.

The squad will also be bolstered by the return of Darnell Fisher, who has served a suspension, while Brian Easton and Chris Millar are back from injury to face Hearts.

"Why have St Johnstone been successful for the last five or six seasons? It's probably because you have guys that play seven out of 10 every week, consistent performances, good in the dressing room and good trainers," said coach Callum Davidson.

"The players are probably underrated outside St Johnstone but they have been really good for the club."

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