Craig Levein: Conor Washington’s pace will bring Hearts up to speed

Conor Washington has joined Hearts from Sheffield United. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS
Conor Washington has joined Hearts from Sheffield United. Picture: Ross MacDonald/SNS
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As the Hearts social media team teased the arrival of a new No 9, fans were reminded
of some of the great strikers
who have pulled on that famous maroon shirt in the past.

From iconic figures such as Willie Bauld, John Robertson and Stephane Adam, through to more recent forwards like Mark de Vries, Edgaras Jankauskas, Kevin Kyle and Kyle Lafferty, it suggested that Conor Washington has some high standards to live up to.

But his new manager Craig Levein believes the Northern Ireland striker has what it takes to do just that.

Describing the acquisition as a “bit of a coup”, the Gorgie boss believes the 27-year-old is the missing piece of the jigsaw in the final third and says his pace and ability to get in behind opposition defences will compliment the talents of Uche Ikpeazu and Steven MacLean, who shouldered the bulk of the attacking 
burden last term, and offer the side a different tactical option as they press upfield.

But that excitement has been tempered slightly in the mind of fans who realise that for every goal hero, there are others who have been heralded and yet failed. And on that less illustrious list is the name of the much-vaunted David Vanecek, whose recent stay in the capital was short-lived as he proved unable to live up to the hype.

While footballers very rarely offer guarantees, Levein sees enough in Washington to convince him that won’t happen again, though.

“It’s a fairly significant signing for us, I believe. The international players we have signed in the past have all done really well. I think this is a bit of a coup and I’m really pleased. Conor is good friends with Michael Smith and Austin [MacPhee, Levein’s assistant coach] knows him as well. I don’t think it will take too much time for him to settle in. I’ve been really impressed in the chats we’ve had and with his willingness to get in and get started.

“I love his energy. He’s got a goal ratio of one in three at a decent level but his energy is fantastic. His speed will also be really helpful. When you bring players in, you have to try to find something that will impress in this league and make a significant difference when we play other teams. I think Conor has two or three different things which will help us enormously.

“He runs in behind defenders, which not a lot of strikers do these days. He is a decent finisher and tries his heart out in every match. The supporters here love that. They love strikers with energy 
who chase, harry and press. He can help us enormously.”

With MacPhee and Smith chipping away at the former QPR and Sheffield United player on international duty, Washington said he was made well aware of Hearts’ merits, while the upturn in another Northern Ireland star’s career also swayed him, according to Levein.

“He saw Kyle [Lafferty]come here for a season and do really well. He knew about the club so it wasn’t a hard sell and he will be low maintenance and high output which is always the best combination.”

Lafferty netted 19 goals in season 2017/18, falling one shy of the illusive 20-goal tally last reached by a Hearts striker 27 years ago. Washington is already aiming to go at least one better.

And with Steven Naismith’s deal about to be rubber-stamped and the arrival of Jamie Walker confirmed last night, the service Levein is looking to get to his strikers should be quality. “Last season we lacked the ability
to change in forward areas,” said the Gorgie boss. “I’m confident that isn’t going to 
be an issue this season. I’m feeling this is good for us.”