Hearts have been bolstered by what they hope will be two key signings ahead of tomorrow’s match against Rangers, with defender Toby Sibbick and striker Liam Boyce agreeing moves to Tynecastle.
The Premiership club were rewarded for their persistence yesterday when Burton Albion, who rejected the capital club’s initial bid for Boyce, accepted an increased offer for the Northern Ireland forward. Having negotiated personal terms, the player agreed a three-and-a-half year deal as manager Daniel Stendel continues to build his own team.
“He can create chances alone and he can be ruthless in the box to win his duels with his body and score easy goals, and not so easy goals,” said the man charged with helping Hearts off the foot of the table. “In some situations you need someone who can decide a game and at the moment we work so hard in every game but we’ve not had luck in some situations to score a goal. In the cup game [against Airdrie] we got the first goal and you can see how much that can change the atmosphere in the stadium and lift the players.
“We need more experiences like this, where we’re 1-0 in front and we can play our game. This is what we missed in the past and I hope we can change it with one or two new players. You can see it not just in the last few games but the whole season.
“Our top scorer [in the league, Ryo Meshino] has three goals. That’s not enough for any team. But I’m wary of saying that if we sign one player, he solves all the problems. We need help from other players on the pitch. But it helps to know that you have a player who has scored goals in the past, someone you believe can score again.
“I still expect all other players on the pitch to carry more threat in front of goal. That means at set pieces, from the wing, from midfield. But it’s good when we have a signing like a new striker, because it shows everyone that we’re doing everything to change the situation.”
Boyce, 28, started his career at Cliftonville before moving to Werder Bremen in Germany. He then spent three years in Scottish football, netting 48 goals in 99 appearances for Ross County and the Gorgie boss is hoping for a similar return from the 21-times capped Northern Irishman who follows fellow striker Donis Avdijaj in the door.
They have been joined by Barnsley defender, Sibbick, who worked with the Hearts manager at Oakwell and has completed a loan deal to join the Edinburgh until the end of the season.
The athletic 20-year-old, who can play at centre-back, right-back or in midfield, has made 18 first team appearances since signing for the English Championship side from Wimbledon last July. But he has seen his game time limited under Barnsley’s new manager Gerhard Struber and has welcomed the opportunity to join up with Stendel.
“He is a young player who we signed for Barnsley in the summer,” said Stendel. “In my opinion, he has real potential. In the Championship, he played all our games and was our best player. He brings a lot of options at centre-back and full-back. He has really good potential, a really good mentality. He is a fast player, an intellectual player. He brings a lot of things needed to be a good professional player.”
Sibbick will train with the squad today and, with Michael Smith and Aaron Hickey still doubtful, could feature against Rangers at Tynecastle tomorrow.
“It’s important that we believe in our ability to change things, to change the results especially,” said Stendel ahead of the game against the title challengers. “For me, that means bringing in players who have more quality. Also, when you come from outside, you don’t come with the baggage of players already here. If you’ve played here for the past six months, you carry that baggage.
“A new player comes in, he wants to play, he wants to show that it was the right decision to sign him and I expect positive things for the squad, for the atmosphere and, especially, for our quality on the pitch.”
For John Souttar, whose return from injury has coincided with a strengthening of the defence, now is the time for Hearts to extricate themselves from the mess in which they find themselves, four points adrift in the relegation spot.
“We haven’t conceded in the last two games, which is a bonus,” he said. “The manager’s ideas are coming slowly. You can start seeing glimpses of how he wants us to play – win the ball high, be aggressive, pressing. The more we play together as a team and get a bit more settled, it will get better.”
Undefeated in their last three games, he believes they can extend that run against the team they drew 1-1 with at home in October. “Against the big teams at Tynecastle, we do tend to play well and get the crowd behind us. If we could get something on Sunday it would be massive. It would give the whole club, fans and players a lift and belief in what the manager is doing as well.”