Hearts may have just completed jigsaw puzzle - will Hibs, Aberdeen and the rest catch be able to catch them?

Coming off the back of a defeat, there is usually a ceiling on the amount of positivity that can be conjured up.

Hearts are currently in third place - and look odds-on to be there come the end of the season.
Hearts are currently in third place - and look odds-on to be there come the end of the season.

But, at Hearts, there are reasons to be upbeat as they look ahead to a week which could all but cement their place in third come the end of the campaign.

Next up are tough and testing fixtures against nearest challengers Motherwell and city rivals Hibs, who have not given up hope of hunting down their foes and reprising last season’s league finish.

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Both of those teams, though, have lost key personnel in the transfer window, and while there have been additions, they are still a work in progress.

Beni Baningime impressed from the bench for Hearts against Celtic.

Hearts, with the advantage of a strong summer window, have had less to do and, sitting high in the league table, they are doing it from a position of strength.

Thus far unwilling to let one of their main assets go any earlier than they have to, they have also focused their efforts on addressing the one area of the team that lacked depth. On the evidence of 45 minutes in Gorgie on Wednesday night, they have successfully done that.

All the jigsaw pieces

Already the best of the rest behind the big two, while some clubs have reached this stage in the season looking like a jigsaw box with the wrong pieces included, the recruitment of Ellis Simms could complete the picture on the lid of Hearts’ carton, with every component looking like it will slot in nicely.

Everton loanee Ellis Simms was impressive when he came on a second-half substitute.

It makes them a dangerous proposition.

A tough team to beat, they have lost just five of their 22 games in the cinch Premiership this season, but with half a dozen draws, a number of which could and should have been upgraded to wins if they had shown a sharper cutting edge.

But while there is pace, width and creativity in the ranks, there has been a heavy reliance on Liam Boyce to spearhead the attack and come up with the finishes.

Adding options to the final third

Everton loanee Simms looks like he can alleviate some of that pressure. He entered the fray at the start of the second half in the Celtic game and despite only joining the club hours earlier and never having had the benefit of a training session with his new team-mates, he quickly found his feet in a game that raged at a breathless pace.

He showed desire, physicality and aerial prowess but the 21-year-old’s pace and intuitive link up play offers Hearts greater variety in the way they can get the ball forward.

As the central focal point or as part of a two-man front line, partnering Boyce, he looked comfortable and gave the visionary Barrie McKay another team-mate to aim for as he threaded through perfectly-weighted passes or whipped in crosses to be attacked.

In the right place at the right time, he drew defenders away from Boyce, giving the Northern Irishman more space to slot home the Hearts goal, while simultaneously providing him an option if he had decided to square it.

Instead of or alongside, if the Englishman can add goals to his opening display, he should take some of the weight off top scorer Boyce and ensure Hearts still have clout should injury force him to sit out any more games between now and the end of the season.

Allied with the return of Simms’ fellow Evertonian, Beni Baningime, for the first time since November, there was desire, drive and vision to the way Hearts went after Celtic in the second half.

If they attack every game with that level of purpose, they will be hard to contain and while they will struggle to catch the teams above them, the teams below them could find it even tougher to reel Robbie Neilson’s men in.

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