Hearts' James Hill: Why I owe so much to Robbie Neilson after Bournemouth loan
Signing on until the end of the season, the Bournemouth player has been largely impressive since arriving in Edinburgh and has helped galvanise the defence. With only three clean sheets prior to his arrival, they have had five in the seven games since he turned up and while the 21-year-old sat out the 0-0 draw with Livingston following a head knock against Hibs, his presence has been a positive. And, not just for Hearts.
“Scottish football tests you,” said Hill. “You have so many different challenges, like facing Rangers to going to Hamilton.It is a great learning curve for me and so far it has been such a great experience. It has already surpassed all my expectations. I’ve had such a variety of games to contend with and I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s all about keeping the standards high and I love the intensity of it all. I’m really enjoying it. I have gone from no football to playing every week and it has been a real joy. I owe so much to the gaffer as he has given me the opportunity and belief I can play in his side.”
Hearts are a side sitting third in the cinch Premiership and, thanks to the 2-0 win over Hamilton on Friday night, the Gorgie club are also through to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup for the fourth time in five seasons. Much of that success is down to the strength in depth of the squad. It means that whoever is in possession of the jersey knows the onus is on them to perform or risk slipping down the pecking order.
Since swapping the Vitality Stadium for Tynecastle, Hill has delivered. Composed beyond his years, he has been an asset on the right of a solid back three and his only real discomfort came against Rangers when he was played in a more advanced role which left him more exposed, on a night when few in maroon got near to their best. “My job as a defender is to help the team keep clean sheets,” continued Hill. “It’s been a good start in that respect. As a collective we’re a tight group, who work hard for each other and that is why we have been so solid at the back.”
Grounded and driven, if his loan spell is part of his schooling, the report card will be a favourable one, with his attitude and ability both notable. And, while he still has ambitions to shine in the English Premier League, he has not lost sight of short-term goals. “I’ve already learned so much in a short period of time,” added Hill. “It’s great for me to play in front of big crowds and be under pressure. If I want to step back into that Bournemouth side I need to make a statement when I’m here. One of our main goals this season is to win this cup. We have to show we can deal with that pressure. I genuinely think there is the belief we can go and do it this season. There is a real desire to keep pushing ourselves and keep driving forward.”