Steven Naismith has agreed a loan deal with Hearts, keeping him at Tynecastle until the end of the season. Patrick McPartlin looks at what Naismith will bring to Tynecastle
Quality in the final third
Despite Hearts’ well publicised meanness at the back – six consecutive clean sheets setting a new club record – the Jambos have struggled at the other end of the park; the obvious exception being the 4-0 win over Celtic in December.
Kyle Lafferty has often looked an isolated figure up top, while the mercurial Esmael Goncalves and Cole Stockton have struggled to make an impact.
With Lafferty due to miss the next three matches, including the Scottish Cup derby against rivals Hibs, Hearts need someone capable of leading the line who is good in the air and able to run in behind and pressurise opposing defences. Naismith can fulfil all those roles and he knows where the goal is.
There was a reason Norwich City paid £8.5 million to secure Naismith’s services in January 2016. Although the Scot had fallen out of favour at Everton, he was challenging the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Arouna Kone for a starting berth. In his secondary position, the Toffees had brought in Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona and signed Tottenham Hotspur winger Aaron Lennon. Despite this, he still managed a ‘perfect’ hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Chelsea - the first English Premier League player to do so against Jose Mourinho’s Blues side. Throw in 45 international caps and seven goals - including strikes against Spain, Poland and Croatia - along with three Scottish league titles, one Scottish Cup win and two Scottish League Cups and it’s clear why Hearts signing Naismith is such a coup.
Undoubtedly at his best in the number nine role, Naismith can nevertheless perform in a number of positions.
At Everton, under David Moyes, he was often used out wide before being moved into a more central position following the arrival of Roberto Martinez.
He’s even, on occasion, operated in a central midfield role but Levein has almost certainly brought Naismith in as an out-and-out attacker, which is how Levein used him during his time as Scotland boss.
Naismith was vocal in his praise of Levein’s tactical approach as Scotland boss at a time when others were slating him, so it won’t be a surprise if Levein opts to use Naismith in different positions depending on the opposition.
A wealth of experience
Still only 31, Naismith has experience of European football with Rangers and Everton; international experience with Scotland and has played in the Scottish top flight, English Premier League and the English Championship in his career.
His arrival at Hearts can only benefit Rory Currie, Aiden Keena, Ally Roy, Nikolay Todorov and Dario Zanatta who will no doubt be queuing up to ask for advice and pointers, in the same way that defensive duo Christophe Berra and Aaron Hughes, and in midfield Don Cowie, have helped to blood the crop of youngsters making a name for themselves in the Hearts first team.
One thing Hearts fans can look forward to is Naismith putting in whole-hearted performances in maroon. At Kilmarnock, Rangers, Scotland and perhaps especially at Everton, Naismith played each game like a fan given the chance to play alongside with his heroes. As he departed Goodison for Carrow Road, then Everton boss Roberto Martinez hailed Naismith as ‘a joy and a true professional’
His off-field work with charities, the homeless and the unemployed mirrors his efforts on the park. He will give everything for Hearts and his workrate will help win over any doubters among the Tynecastle faithful.