Why the way Jamie Walker's Hearts career is ending is a disappointment to fans

Jamie Walker got to live the dream with Hearts. Two hundred and forty times across two spells, scoring 54 goals.

The last came on December 18. Some may not have been able to see it through the fog at Dens Park, but the forward displayed his ability to react to a situation in the box, firing a rebound into the back of the net to secure a 1-0 win against Dundee.

The outpouring of joy which greeted the goal, from Walker, his team-mates and fans showed how much he is thought of at Tynecastle. But it was also a moment which made those watching ponder ‘what if?’ or even feel a degree of frustration, even more now after he joined Bradford City on loan in search of regular football.

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It was just his seventh appearance of the season for Hearts – his eighth and final would come against Ross County on Boxing Day. He didn’t start a single match this campaign.

Jamie Walker departed Hearts earlier this week. Picture: SNS
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Robbie Neilson’s 3-4-3 system, which makes use of two attacking forwards behind Liam Boyce, seemed perfect for Walker and his game-changing or game-defining qualities in the final third. He reads situations so well, he makes excellent use of a late run and he is a constant threat in and around the box.

More productive?

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At times this campaign, Hearts have struggled to find the right balance in attack. Liam Boyce and Barrie McKay have more than earned their starting points but Josh Ginnelly, Ben Woodburn and Gary Mackay-Steven have failed to perform consistently enough to earn that final starting berth on a regular basis.

The trio have netted seven goals between them in 3,252 minutes (a goal every 465 minutes). Walker has scored twice in 186 (one every 93 minutes). A very simple way to look at the situation but there's a strong argument that, given the minutes, he would have been more productive in the final third than the aforementioned trio.

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Walker's winner at Dundee last month was his 54th goal for his boyhood club. (Photo by Paul Devlin / SNS Group)

From the outside looking in, there seems to be an element of trust as a starter. Robbie Neilson is a fan of Walker but since he returned as Hearts boss he's started the player just 18 of 60 matches.

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The player’s fitness has been discussed, with the suggestion he needs a run of games to get into his best shape. But that run didn’t materialise. Instead he increasingly became an impact player, his final six goals coming from the bench.

Not the way it should have ended

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The way Walker's Hearts career is petering out – out of contract at the end of the season – leaves a sense of disappointment amongst the club's support.

He is one of the most gifted players to emerge from the club’s academy over the past decade. Those who saw him star for the club's youth teams note moments of magic he produced. The ability to beat a man, to score from distance, to sprinkle gold dust on proceedings.

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Injuries to his knee have hindered progress. So have circumstances.

When he became a first-team regular the club were in a bad place on and off the field, heading towards the Championship. With Gary Locke unable to sign players, a lot of responsibility landed on Walker.

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Now, at 28, he should be one of the leaders of the team, not watching his Hearts career end from England’s League Two.

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