Hearts manager Craig Levein has joked that anticipating the availability of strikers is like waiting for public transport, as he looks ahead to the arrival of newcomer David Vanecek and the expected return of Steven Naismith and Uche Ikpeazu around the turn of the year.
Czech forward Vanecek was signed on a pre-contract in the summer but, having failed to prise him away from FK Teplice any sooner, the club won’t have the benefit of the 27-year-old’s presence until after the winter shutdown.
With injuries to first Ikpeazu and then Naismith blunting the Hearts frontline in recent weeks his arrival is much anticipated, although Levein is hoping he will have a battle for a starting spot if the Englishman and the Scot’s rehabilitation continues on schedule.
“He brings something different again. He is a proper No 9, quick, powerful, and he is a good finisher. He would help us just now but instead it is like buses, we wait for one and suddenly they all come back at once.
“But David has had a good start to the season [in the Czech HET Liga] and is fit. They finish in December but he will still be under contract. Once that contract runs out he will be over, although he could come over and look for property etc before his contract runs out but he just can’t play for us. Because of the winter break he can come across to Spain [with the rest of the squad] but I would rather he just came across in December and got himself settled and his wife and kids settled before coming away.”
Vanecek, who has netted seven times in his 13 starts and two sub appearances in the first half of the season, is a popular player in the Czech first tier but has expressed his excitement about joining the Edinburgh club, who are hoping to move back into second place in the Premiership on Sunday by leapfrogging opponents Rangers.
A forthright character, the striker recently hit out at officials and opponents in the wake of a defeat to Dukla Prague where two of his team-mates were sent off. Posting on social media he said: “Everyone who saw the match can make their own image. I won’t express it more so that I won’t have to explain anything to disciplinarians and so that I won’t get any fines, which unfortunately are used in this country to silence any effort for freedom of speech.
“The only thing I can say is that I’m incredibly excited for Scotland. Honestly I think the matches I have watched in the Scottish league are showing the truth, that real men play there, that they endure a duel and don’t cry like princesses.
“It seems to me, that the matches are controlled well and what happened today is not there to be seen.”
There is a need for Hearts to find a more clinical edge in front of goal in the weeks between now and his arrival, though. Drawing a blank in the last five games, the good news is that Naismith’s recovery from a knee operation is going well, with his manager hoping he will be available for selection by the time Hearts travel to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen on 22 December, if not before.
Impotent in his absence, the return of the veteran, who is on a season-long loan from Norwich City, would hopefully give the team a boost in the final flurry of games this year, which includes the second capital derby of the campaign, while Ikpeazu regaining full fitness and the arrival of Vanecek in January would also offer positivity for the second half of the season.