Addition of striker Kyle to Hearts' attack sees Calum raring to go

WHEN Kevin Kyle is rampaging through SPL defences in a maroon No.?9 shirt this season, Calum Elliot intends being the seagull sniffing around the trawler. Any second striker feeding off a colossus like Kyle is unlikely to go hungry and for Elliot, frustrated by last season's injury-interrupted campaign, Hearts' recruitment of the Scotland internationalist brings renewed optimism.

So too does the fact a persistent knee injury is no longer causing pain. The 23-year-old found himself sidelined for extensive periods last year and managed only 13 appearances at first-team level. Thankfully, recuperation over the summer saw him present himself in pristine condition for this week's pre-season training camp in Italy's Tuscan hills.

Elliot has been a fixture at first-team level for five years now. He knows the territory well. Previous criticism from Hearts supporters remains lodged in his memory bank, however he is determined to peer into the future rather than lament the past. Kyle's arrival has prompted him to consider whether this may be the year he fulfils some of that undoubted potential.

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At 6ft 3in, Kyle is the identikit partner for many a striker. Power, aggression and aerial threat are just three of the components Elliot hopes to feed off in his quest to become a regular goalscorer. Jim Jefferies, the Hearts manager, must decide on who should provide the ideal foil for his new signing and Elliot is quick to stake a claim.

"I think everybody would enjoy playing alongside him," he told the Evening News. "He will take the pressure off you because of the way he plays and holds the ball up. I've been asked to play that way before and it's not really a role I like to play. Of course, if that's how the manager wants to play then you have to do it. It's just a case of trying to do your bit for the team. We all need to wait to see what the manager's plans are.

"I think Kevin will be a great signing for us. We never really had the kind of player to play the way the manager wanted last season. The way we wanted to play, he would have been ideal. I'm looking forward to playing with him and, if the manager chooses me, we can hopefully become a successful partnership.

"It's difficult to say what impact Kevin could have made (last year] but he will be a good addition to the side. Everybody knows what his strengths are and I'd imagine we'll play to them. It will be a case of trying to play with him and feed off him. I wouldn't say anybody is a first pick but, with the manager bringing him in, I'd imagine Kevin will start the season.

Everybody will have a chance to stake a claim for a place in the side."

Anticipation is building within the Hearts camp at the luxurious Il Ciocco complex, despite the rigorous training sessions laid on by Jefferies and his assistant, Billy Brown. If there is one advantage to being physically pegged out, it is that you have at least been able to participate. Elliot knows only too well the feeling of misery brought by continual fitness problems, and it is somewhat ironic that Kyle, the man he is so keen to partner, has missed this Italian trip due his own injury troubles.

"I've had to rest my knee over the summer and it feels great," said Elliot. "I'm really looking forward to starting the season and, hopefully, playing my part in a successful season for Hearts. Injuries hindered me for the whole season last year and it's a case of moving on now and starting afresh. I want to be part of a successful team.

"I'm looking to get games and I'm looking to score goals. What happened last year does make you that bit more eager. It's a massive season for me, and it's probably the same for everyone else. If you get your chance you've got to take it and make sure you stay in the team.

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"You always look forward to coming back and getting the season started. I just want to get the first two weeks out the way and look forward to playing games. I think we all expected Italy to be quite tough but we'll just take things as they come. The manager has told us what's happening regarding the schedule and how things will pan out.

"In pre-season you look forward to getting the hard training over with, then you look forward to getting the friendly games over so you can start the campaign in a good frame of mind. We need to hope for a better start in the league than last year and then kick on from there. Every team wants to begin with three points and we are no different."

As he gazes around the dressing room this summer, Elliot may ponder the entire overhaul of personnel since he first emerged from Hearts' youth academy as a teenager. That was merely five years ago but the squad then contained a multitude of experience within a thoroughly cosmopolitan environment. Steven Pressley, Takis Fyssas, Rudi Skacel, Edgaras Jankauskas and Paul Hartley were the mainstays, whilst now the strongest influence is from the younger home-grown talent. Kyle, at 29, is Hearts' elder statesman.

"There are a lot of young Scottish players now, it's completely different from when I broke into the team," noted Elliot. "It's just something you get used to. All the foreign boys could chip in with banter so it's been no different to any other dressing room in that regard.

"It's going to be a massive year for us as a team and I believe we have the players to do well. I don't know if the manager will bring in more players but I'd imagine we have a chance of doing something. Hearts is all about bringing youth players through and I think more will emerge this season. It wouldn't be fair to put too much pressure on any of the younger onesbut there are a lot of good young boys waiting for their chance."..

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