Craig Halkett explains why Gary Mackay-Steven will help Hearts unlock Championship defences
To employ trendy football parlance, the low block has stifled the Edinburgh club’s creative players at places like Dunfermline, Dundee and Alloa. They head back to Clackmannanshire today hoping a new sorcerer can produce the required magic.
Gary Mackay-Steven’s arrival on a two-and-a-half-year deal adds extra panache to a team prolific at home but too often passive away. Supporters are excited about the winger’s ability to weave through well-drilled defensive lines.
He didn’t manage to avoid Halkett in training on Thursday and suffered a burst lip in an accidental collision. It shouldn’t threaten chances of his Hearts debut this afternoon.
“I just gave him a good old welcome to Scotland with my forehead on his lip,” joked Halkett. “It's a massive signing for us. He has played at the top teams in Scotland and abroad. He is still that same player we all knew from before – a tricky winger who is fast and pacy.
“He is a great guy who has come in and got on with everyone really well. It's important for a club like ourselves to show we are signing those players and the direction we want to go.
“Everyone knows the aim this year is to get back to the Premiership. The manager wants to keep building and pushing the club forward for when we hopefully get there.”
Winning automatic promotion means prevailing away at the likes of Alloa, where opponents are camped in and determined to frustrate. It is one of the reasons Hearts pushed hard to get Mackay-Steven when he left New York City.
“That's one of the qualities you need when you are up against teams who are going to sit with two banks and try to frustrate you. That's when you need that bit of quality and magic. I think Gary has definitely got that in his locker,” said Halkett, who hasn’t played against the Scotland internationalist.
“I think I was in the lower leagues at Livingston when he was in the Premiership so I think we just missed each other. I watched him play on TV and saw the type of player he is. I'm really looking forward to playing with him.
“He is going to suit the way we want to play – nice, attractive, attacking football. The more players we have like Gary, who are fast, skilful and willing to be direct helps. I think the strikers here are going to love him.”
Hearts are grateful to have a fixture this weekend after all leagues below the Championship were suspended until at least February 1. The Scottish Cup is also in hibernation for now. Hearts are due to visit Brora Rangers when the competition resumes.
“The league is our main target but progressing in the cups is another one of our targets,” said Halkett. “We feel we have a good enough squad to compete with every team in this country and I think we showed it last month against Celtic in the final.
“Hearts made the Scottish Cup final for the last two years and we want to do it again. That’s what Hearts is about, being up there winning leagues and being in cup semi-finals and finals.”