DARIO ZANATTA picked the ball up midway inside the Dundee United half, drove through the heart of a bewildered defence, and slotted the ball home.

It was the final days of 2018 and this was the Canadian coming of age in front of the Recs support.

The youngster revelled in notching his third goal in three games – during a six-game unbeaten run for Jim Goodwin's men – as flashes of brilliance in the autumn months came together as one complete package.

Just weeks later, Zanatta joined Goodwin in winning one of the Championship's monthly awards as he collected the player of the month gong off the back of a memorable December and suddenly he was one of the talents to watch in the second tier.

From then until the end of the season, hype surrounded his every move. Whenever he got on the ball and wowed the Alloa crowd with another direct run, they duly obliged with a buzz of excitement.

Off the park, chat of forcing his way into the plans of Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, or even earning a call-up to the Canadian national side abounded.

But, perhaps most surprising about his leap into the wider footballing public's eye was how unsurprising it was for those at the Recs.

This is a side which, in recent times, has made a habit of getting the best out of talented youngsters and Zanatta is in no doubt why.

"It's a club where you are made to feel welcome from day one," Zanatta told Advertiser Sport as he looked back on what made his time at the club so successful.

"Guys like big Andy (Graham) make sure you never feel awkward and fit in from the start.

"I never once felt restricted about how I was able to play and that is down to the manager and all of the players.

"The manager has a bit of a reputation on the pitch and the coaching staff at Hearts know of him as a hard man.

Off the pitch, he will speak to anyone and is always encouraging you. But, if he does join in at training, he won't hesitate to go through you.

"Loans can be difficult especially if you don't play, but that was never the case at Alloa. Even when I had a few other offers, I always wanted to stay and keep on playing."

Of course, not every loan or young player recruited has been a unanimous success story. For every Zanatta or Jake Hastie – who'll be plying his trade at Rangers next season – there's a Liam Burt or Jack Hamilton, although the latter did score a crucial goal in a win over Morton.

But with eight goals, ten assists, and a host of man-of-the-match displays during his time at the club, Zanatta's is a spell which seems destined to always be remembered fondly by both player and support.

"Staying up was well-deserved for us and no matter whether we playing Ross County or Falkirk, we were competitive," the 21-year-old said.

"We started to pick-up results in the second half of the season which our performances merited.

"We were more of a team than the likes of Queen of the South and we were all prepared for the fight from the first day."

He added: "The year was all about showing what I was capable of at this level and taking the confidence from the end of the season with me.

"I know I can be a frustrating player to play with, but I believe I am always positive and know what I am capable of.

"I need to take that with me to Hearts. I'm sure if I had had the season I just had and I wasn't a Hearts player, then the club would have gone and signed me."

Another who came of age – if in less spectacular fashion – was Connor Shields and the Sunderland youngster topped off a solid campaign by bagging the goal which kept the side in the league with a draw at Ayr United on the final day.

The former Albion Rovers man was never one to grab the spotlight, instead getting his head down and putting in tireless shifts in his less fancied right-wing position, but will forever be remembered in Wasps folklore for the Ayr strike.

He was another one who blossomed under Goodwin's tutelage and believes the structure at the club is the perfect breeding ground for young talent.

"People think that part-time means there will be no structure at the club, but that's not the case," Shields said. "It's brilliantly run and having a mix of young and older boys really helped me.

"When you go through bad spells, the boys really work to pick you up and that really does help.

"So many of the players in the team have showed they are good enough to go full-time and guys like Andy Graham have even proven a lot of people wrong.

"The standard of training from day one was excellent and the manager gave us all the belief that we could do it."