On the day the stalwart celebrated his 39th birthday, it was announced he had agreed a two-and-a-half year extension and given the form he has been in since returning to Tynecastle in 2020, it was a fabulous piece of business.
Producing world class saves on an almost weekly basis, Scotland’s No 1 has been inspirational as Hearts captain, leading by example on and off the park and as integral to the points haul that has them sitting third in the Premiership as any attacking player.
The fact he has signed the new deal when there was interest from England and beyond, shows his belief that there is even more to come from the capital side in the second half of the season and on into next term, when he expects them to be playing in Europe.
Added to the arrival of Australian Nathan Atkinson, an attacking wing-back who suits the high-tempo, pressing style favoured by Hearts boss Robbie Neilson, there is a pervading sense of a club on the front foot and eager to press home the advantage they built up in the opening 20 games of the Premiership campaign.
So much work was carried out in the summer, conducting a necessary clear out but then adding composure, bite, and intensity in the middle of the pitch, with the successful recruitment of impressive midfielders, Beni Baningime and Cammy Devlin. While they have been big impact players, the loan signings of Taylor Moore, Alex Cochrane and Ben Woodburn have all proved astute, and Barrie McKay has shown he was worth waiting for, adding dollops of creativity on the wing and the promise of goals and even more potential to unlock.
Those dealings dilute the need for wholesale changes in January, but there is no hiding the desire for another out-and-out striker to offer Liam Boyce competition when both are fit or provide more clinical cover when the Northern Irishman is not. Goals have proved trickier to come by when he has been absent and with big ambitions, they have to address that.
Like many managers, Neilson will also be acutely aware of the ongoing threat posed by covid and the pressure to play rather than postpone fixtures due to tight scheduling. That could see him bring in a couple more players than he had originally planned as he endeavours to make sure any B string proves capable of maintaining standards should they be called upon to protect their third place status and push on, while also making decent progress in the Scottish Cup.
Those extra additions could be financed by the departure of French forward Armand Gnanduillet, who seems certain to move on after starting just three league games since Hearts’ return to the Premiership. Salford City are one of the favourites to make a bid for the 29-year-old who arrived as a free agent 12 months ago and is out of contract in the summer.
Jamie Walker has also been touted as one of those who could move on in search of more regular involvement. Clubs in the Premiership, and in the Scottish second tier are said to be interested in the player who netted the winner at Dundee a couple of weeks ago. But all eight appearances this season have come from the substitutes bench and he may feel that at 28 the time is right to push for more regular involvement elsewhere.