Heart of Midlothian’s Summer Signings: How are they faring so far?
By Andrew Mclean @MrATrialist.
It was another summer of major player turnover at the club as eight new faces came in while 26 players of varying degrees of seniority departed, either permanently or on loan. Now that Hearts are a good couple of months into the season the new signings fortunes can be assessed fairly, without the knee jerk reactions of some poor performances. So, how are they getting on?
A goalkeeper, an actual goalkeeper. With arms and hands that actually work. Forgive me for dwelling on these simple points a little as it is just so long since Hearts have had a reliable presence between the sticks. Long gone are the dark days of Joel Periera, Bobby Zlamal and Colin Doyle each concocting new and unique ways to outdo each other's ineptitude.
The fact that he is a club legend returning home to his boyhood club adds to the sheer romantic brilliance of the signing. He quickly announced his return with a magnificent save from Inverness’ Daniel MacKay in our first competitive performance of the season. He followed it up with a string of solid performances before a man of the match display against Hibs in the Scottish Cup, including THAT save from Kevin Nisbet with the score at 0-0. He deservedly earned a recall to the Scotland squad on the back of his fine form. The club’s signing of the season and there is a strong argument that he is the best goalkeeper in Scotland.
With the departure of Aaron Hickey to Bologna in the summer, left-back became a position that Hearts needed to strengthen - and in Stephen Kingsley, the club have found one of our best left-backs in years.
A somewhat surprising signing given his pedigree but he has been an excellent addition to the squad. Cool, calm and composed, he is as solid defensively as he is going forward. The club’s top scorer in the league so far this season with three goals, including two exceptional strikes in the 6-2 demolition job of Dundee. With Michael Smith on the opposite flank, Hearts currently have two full-backs that will be the envy of many clubs in Scotland.
The only minor downside is he only has a one year contract. Recent reports have suggested that contract talks should take place in the next few weeks and are incredibly welcome. At just 26 years old, the best of his career is still ahead of him. He can make the position his own for at least the next five years.
The on-loan winger’s importance has been highlighted since he hobbled off against Arbroath a month ago. Except for the last hour of the cup semi-final against Hibs, the side has looked slow, one dimensional and predictable in his absence.
A quick, direct and skilful wide man he has probably been our most exciting new signing to watch. He is always a good option out on the right-hand side and provides the side with an out ball to stretch the game. Once he returns to fitness, he should help Liam Boyce return to form, by creating good chances from the right for the out of sorts striker to take.
Like Kingsley, he is another that would be useful to keep beyond the end of the season. Given his current Preston deal runs out at the end of the season, reports that he is interested in a permanent contract are promising. A player who’s best is still yet to come - and his return to fitness cannot happen soon enough.
You would be forgiven for forgetting that Hearts signed the goalkeeper in the summer. He has only featured twice - but has done what has been expected of him whenever he has played. He is reasonably solid and is happy to warm the bench as the clear second choice. You cannot ask for much more from your back up goalkeeper.
Halliday’s performances so far this season have been strange. There have been some good performances like the Hibs semi-final and against Alloa in mid-week. On the other hand, there have been some terrible appearances like in the defeats against Dunfermline and Alloa.
He has been unable to strike up a midfield partnership of any description with the ineffective Olly Lee - and there will be many Hearts fans (this writer included) who will be happy to never see the pair line up together in midfield again. That said, he has been most effective when fielded alongside Peter Haring - and once the Austrian returns to full fitness you would imagine he will be fighting for the one slot alongside him.
Although he has not shown what he is capable of yet, there has been enough to suggest he could come good for us but must start showing it sooner rather than later. His versatility should also come in handy at some point during the season.
If there is a single Hearts supporter who says they are confident in Popescu's defensive ability then they are almost certainly a liar. It would be harsh to call him a bomb scare at this stage - but it is the territory he edges closer towards with what seems like every performance.
His arrival came with much praise from St Mirren fans who seemed to enjoy his time at their club. It is fair to say that Hearts fans have not enjoyed him so much so far. He always manages to appear rash and reckless whenever he goes for the ball. He is comfortably the weakest member of our back four. His passing has so far somewhat stifled our ability to play out from the back. He missed two sitters against Dunfermline that could have seen us get something from the game.
Despite all this, it is clear from his time at St Mirren that there is a player there. He has not quite looked settled within the Hearts team so far while he may cut out the recklessness with more confidence. He certainly will need to find his form soon - or he will deservedly find himself on the sidelines watching Christophe Berra in his place instead. That is, of course, if he has not lost the position already.
One of the stranger signings of the transfer window. Signed to play as a winger despite the fact he does not seem like he wants to play out there. The antithesis to Ginnelly, he rarely provides the team with width and can be slow on and off the ball.
Hearts have looked far better when he has been absent. The cup semi-final was a striking example of this; Hearts instantly looked better after he went off.
His one saving grace is that he has suffered from injuries and does not yet look up to full speed. However, he must quickly improve or else should face a long season out of the side.
Possibly the worst of the club’s summer signings, the winger has failed to impress at Tynecastle. He lacks the required speed for a wide man - but even more worryingly, he consistently appears timid and weak during games. One of his strengths is supposed to be his crossing ability - but this is something that Hearts fans have scarcely seen in his time at the club.
It does not reflect well on him that Aidy White has looked to be an improvement on the left whenever he has played. That fact, more than any other, suggests that Frear’s Hearts career is doomed to fail.
How successful has the window been on the whole?
The summer transfer window has been a real mixed bag. Gordon, Kingsley and Ginnelly have been real success stories while the likes of Frear, Roberts and Popescu have not fared as well.
It does not reflect well on the recruitment team that only three of the eight signings can comfortably be considered an improvement to the starting XI.
Linking to recent articles on the site by Old Castle Rock and Matthew Harold you could argue that the signings have contributed to our youth problem. Roberts and Frear, in particular, have prevented the likes of Lewis Moore and Euan Henderson from earning a place in the side, despite both players starting to find their feet under Daniel Stendel. Furthermore, young talents like Anthony MacDonald and Callum Morrison were allowed to leave the club in the summer, even though they both seem like clear improvements on our failing wide men. Even the signing of Halliday has blocked our youth development - as it has prevented Andy Irving from getting the game time that he deserves.
The Championship provided the perfect opportunity to breed some of our youngsters into the first team. Instead, they find themselves on the bench or out of the club entirely at the expense of experienced underperformers.
Hearts must start seeing more from the poorer new signings - or it is entirely feasible that the club will continue to see more of the second tier in the coming seasons.