Joel Sked breaks down the season thus far for every team in our series of Ladbrokes Premiership mid-term report cards.
Robbie Neilson’s last game was the perfect send-off for all parties. Hearts were tenacious and rampant in front of a reverberating Tynecastle as they defeated Rangers to rise to second place. The performance was everything fans want from their Hearts side. There were also excellent performances in defeats of Inverness and Motherwell at home, while they ended a long run of failing to win at Fir Park.
The Europa League campaign was a disaster, slumping to a home defeat to Maltese opposition. The recruitment left the squad unbalanced and Ian Cathro has had little in the way of a honeymoon period as the club fell out of the race for second-place prior to the winter break. A two-goal lead was surrendered at Dens Park and insipid performances occurred against rivals Rangers and Aberdeen.
Bjorn Johnsen was the one success story from the summer’s recruitment drive. He possesses a lot of the qualities required for a striker to succeed at Tynecastle. Jack Hamilton has been impressive between the sticks, and is seen as one of the most promising goalkeepers in the country. John Souttar is continuing to develop into a fine centre-half, getting better at the physical aspect of the game.
The squad needs a better balance. The January window often highlights the failures of the previous summer’s transfers. With Callum Paterson’s injury, a full-back or two is a must as is a wide player with too many central options. The club’s defensive record has been atypical, on three occasions they have conceded three goals away from home with only six league clean sheets.
A few weeks ago and the grade would have been higher, but the recent slump means the team will be fighting off the threat of St Johnstone for fourth place rather than challenging higher. A cup run is imperative to keep fans’ interest piqued.