Robbie Neilson has not finished his rebuilding work ahead of the new season, saying he still wants to recruit at least another two players, but the new-look side is already more reflective of the style of play he believes the Hearts fans appreciate.
The Gorgie gaffer presided over a comfortable 5-0 pre-season win over lower league East Fife and while he is aware that his men will face much stiffer opposition when the competitive action gets underway at Championship and cup level, the prospects are more positive than last year.
Despite the friendly nature of the contest, the home side were on the front foot from the outset, the timid and tight displays of last term a fading nightmare. Instead there was a drive and tempo to the more expansive display that signals a switch in mindset and execution and augurs well. Using the flanks to good effect, newcomers linked up with rejuvenated survivors of past regimes.
“We have players that want to play forward, want to be aggressive in possession and get at people one v one and that is what we want,” said Neilson. “Fans who come to Tynecastle want to see excitement and balls into the box and we have brought guys in who can do that for us.
“That’s also what I want to see as a manager. I want to see goals, see us getting wide and then delivering balls into the box. You have to play to your team’s strengths as well. We have [Liam] Boyce up front who thrives on balls into the box, thrives on crosses.
“Look at his time at Ross County, that is what he fed off. He had [Craig] Curran making the moves in behind and then you had [Michael] Gardyne putting balls into the box for him so we have to play to our strengths and I think we have a good combination at the moment.
“You have to play to the player’s strengths and maybe last season that wasn’t the case. But bringing in the players that we have already brought in will bring Liam on as well which is important because he is our main striker.”
The sweeping moves forward on Friday night showed hunger, cohesion and belief, as players linked up to execute a game plan that saw chances created and converted.
Key to that were summer signings Elliott Frear, who was one of five different players to weigh in with goals, and Jordan Roberts.
“I was pleased,” admitted Neilson, who has returned for his second spell as Hearts manager and is looking to reprise his promotion achievement of his previous tenure. “We were aggressive with the ball and we worked hard and created and scored a number of good goals. We are trying to drive them on to get the fitness levels up so it was a useful exercise.
“I think [Jordan] is going to be excellent for us this season. He has pace and power and in Scotland there are not many players who have that. He is desperate to win things and that was one of the things he said when we brought him up here. He wants to be part of something, he wants success.
“We spoke when I first came in of the need to bring pace to the wider areas and power to the wider areas and both him and Elliot have got pace and both of them can deliver great crosses. We also brought on Josh Ginnelly [who is on loan from Preston North End] near the end, who had a wee niggle during the week but he’s another who can go at people one v one. These guys will be good additions for us.”
But, even with both Peter Haring and Steven Naismith expected to feature in a bounce game tomorrow, and Christophe Berra expected to ease back into training in the next couple of weeks, there is still a desire for more new faces, as Neilson eyes a second successive Championship title and plots a derby triumph over Hibs when the capital duo meet in the semi final of last season’s Scottish Cup, at Hampden, next month.
“There will be good competition for places but that is what we want, you want to be able to turn and look at your bench and have strong options so if things need changed, you can change them,” said Neilson.
“We have [former St Mirren defender Mihai] Popescu coming in after quarantine but we are still looking to add one or two at least and there will be a few bodies who go out, whether that be on permanent or loan deals to free up space.”
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