Hearts will complete the signing of American international Perry Kitchen later this month to further increase Robbie Neilson’s options as the Tynecastle side aim to keep the pressure on Aberdeen.
Kitchen, a 24 year-old holding midfielder with three USA international caps, has been training with Hearts all this week after rejecting a new deal at MLS club DC United, where he has been since 2011.
Kitchen was keen to try European football, coming close to moving to clubs in both Italy and Germany. Hearts moved in after those talks collapsed.
Kitchen has already had a UK working visa approved after the Tynecastle club successfully argued the case on an “exceptional talent” basis. Kitchen has not played the requisite number of international games in the past two years to be automatically granted a work permit.
He is now set to sign with Hearts for up to three years in what is regarded as a coup by Tynecastle club officials. But red tape formalities will prevent him from making his debut this weekend against Partick Thistle and it is likely to be later this month before he pulls on a maroon shirt in competitive action.
Neilson has already described the returning Jamie Walker as “like a January signing” after his goal set Hearts on their way to victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Tuesday.
The win took Hearts to within six points of second-place Aberdeen before the Pittodrie side’s clash with Dundee United last night. Kitchen’s imminent addition is another boost as Hearts seek to overhaul Aberdeen.
Gavin Reilly, named man of the match in Tuesday’s victory, believes Derek McInnes’ team will be conscious of what is behind as well as in front, with Aberdeen still very much engaged in pegging back leaders Celtic. Hearts host Aberdeen on 8 April in the last round of games before the split.
“Aberdeen will definitely be looking over their shoulder,” the striker said. “We’ve not cemented third place yet but you’ve always got to aim high. We need to keep the momentum up and hopefully when we get them in the next game we can turn them over.”
Reilly credited news of Neilson signing a contract extension last week as giving the players a boost after two dispiriting results against Hibs and Dundee United. The head coach signed an extension to his current deal last Friday tying him to the club until 2018.
“The gaffer and Stevie [Crawford] signing new contracts is a great lift for all the boys,” he said. “We know they will be here. Everything is going well at the moment and things won’t change drastically for next season.
“A few might come and go but it’s great to have that stability,” he added. “We’ve probably overachieved this season just by getting top six but we’ll be gunning for Aberdeen again next season as well. It’s about constantly building. We can definitely be up there with Aberdeen and Celtic next season.
Reilly addressed the complaints from fans after the recent defeat by Hibs in the Scottish Cup. He added that the players had to expect such criticism.
“It was hard going out of the cup, especially to Hibs,” he said. “But we took it on the chin. We took the flak from the fans, which had to be expected. Hopefully we can finish third this season – and maybe even second.”