Scottish Premiership: Hearts preview -Transfers | Key player | Can Levein survive fan criticism? | Prediction

Craig Levein is under pressure but is helped by the return of Steven Naismith. Picture: SNS
Craig Levein is under pressure but is helped by the return of Steven Naismith. Picture: SNS
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After a troubled Betfred Cup group stages, Joel Sked analyses Hearts ahead of the new season.

Manager

Craig Levein suffered the wrath of fan criticism during the Betfred Cup groups stages. A positive start to the league campaign is a must if he is to ease the pressure building.

Last season

Hearts fans were desperate for a cup run and to get back to Hampden Park. It happened twice on both counts with Betfred Cup semi final and Scottish Cup final defeats to Celtic. Despite a fantastic start to the season which saw the club top the league going into November, a disastrous slump saw them slump to a second sixth place finish in a row.

Transfers

IN: Craig Halkett (Livingston), Steven Naismith (Norwich City, loan made permanent), Jamie Walker (Wigan Athletic), Conor Washington (Sheffield United)

OUT: Arnaud Djoum (Al-Raed), Ryan Edwards (Burton Albion), Marcus Godinho (FSV Zwickau), Conor Sammon (Falkirk), David Vanecek (Puskas Akademia), Daniel Baur (Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic, loan), Demi Mitchell (Manchester United, end of loan), Conor Shaughnessy (Leeds United, end of loan), Aaron Hughes (retired), Maluary Martin

Most interesting recruit

Any of the four current signings could be picked but Conor Washington is a curious case. The club didn't think they would be able to recruit him due to competition down south but managed to convince him to move north, helped by the presence of Austin MacPhee who works with the player with Northern Ireland.

The 27-year-old has moved for fees of around £3.5million but has never been a prolific goalscorer in England. He has already shown that he is a hard-working and crafty forward. Small in stature but capable of using his body wisely.

There is potential in him playing with Naismith but whether he can hit the goals is another question. Instead, he may develop into a Stephen Elliott type forward.

Key player

It can only be one: Steven Naismith.

Without him (and Peter Haring) Hearts are a distinctly mediocre side. Naismith in particular elevates the side. He is the on field leader, manager, talisman.

Despite missing 24 games in all competitions last campaign he still finished top scorer with 14.

He played 19 league fixtures, missing the other 19. Hearts' win percentage with him was 63.2 per cent. It plummeted to 15.8 per cent without him.

He HAS to stay fit.

What do they still need?

Some, perhaps many, fans would say a new manager.

With Peter Haring out for two months the team are in desperate need of a midfielder. Sean Clare and Oliver Bozanic were non-existent against East Fife. Imagine them coming up against Funso Ojo, Craig Bryson and Lewis Ferguson on the opening day.

The question: Where are Hearts going under Craig Levein?

It is the question on the lips of fans. The club's owner Ann Budge gave an interview to the Evening News where she backed Craig Levein.

While all fans are grateful to the work she has done in turning around the club, making sure it survived administration there and putting it back on its feet, there are question marks amongst the support whether she has it in her to relieve Levein of the managerial duties if the time comes.

Since October performances have largely not been impressive with discontent simmering below the surface ready to erupt. For a club which had this positive momentum it appears to have lost direction, on the field at least.

The bare minimum this season is a top-four finish and improved performances on the pitch with a more attacking, pleasing on the eye style.

Any other business

Get following the club's official Instagram. It is excellent and arguably the most positive thing about Hearts just now.

Prediction

5th

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*Transfers courtesy of Narey's Topepoker