Hearts 2-0 Inverness CT: Big future predicted for Liam Smith

Hearts' Liam Smith goes close with a shot
Liam Smith came close to scoring in his first Premiership start

Robbie Neilson predicted a big future for Liam Smith after the 19-year-old made his first Scottish Premiership start as Hearts beat Inverness.

The head coach handed the right-back his chance after an injury ruled out Scotland Under-21 cap Callum Paterson.

"He's an eight out of 10 guy every week - steady, makes the right decisions and he's a very good player," he told BBC Scotland after the 2-0 win.

"No doubt, long-term, he will be a big player for Hearts."

Smith had made three starts in cup games, but his league appearances had been restricted to three off the substitutes' bench.

But he also played 23 times while on loan to East Fife last season.

"I thought he did really well," said Neilson. "I had every confidence in putting him in.

"Liam's a really steady player. It's just that he has to get used to the physicality of it, the pace of the game and the fitness levels required.

"He's found it difficult to get game time this year because of Callum Paterson, but with Callum being out, he's got the opportunity and I thought tonight he did exactly as I expected."

Neilson was pleased to have gathered six points after two of three home games within a week and to have narrowed the gap with second-top Aberdeen to six points.

"It was a good performance against a very good team," he said.

Hearts' Robbie Neilson and Caley Thistle's John Hughes shake hands
Robbie Neilson's side got the better of John Hughes' Caley Thistle on this occasion

"I thought we passed the ball very well and were very patient and controlled a lot of the game."

Jamie Walker weaved into the Caley Thistle penalty box to open the scoring before Abiola Dauda pounced on a poor Greg Tansey back pass to secure Hearts' win.

Caley Thistle manager John Hughes said: "I was disappointed with the goals that we lost, especially the second one - that was a gift.

"The first one is a 30-yard pass over the top and you have to see that and deal with it.

"We seem to be doing amateur stuff - losing goals at the wrong time and losing poor goals.

"I felt we played some nice football in front of them and huffed and puffed, but Hearts played with a better energy and got at us and, possibly over the piece, they deserved to win it."

Hughes was disappointed that his side rarely troubled goalkeeper Neil Alexander.

"We are badly lacking in the final third for someone to unlock that door or give us that bit of spark and it is something we are going to have a look at - maybe a different shape to give us more impetus in the final third," he added.

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