What Hearts are getting in striker Cole Stockton

Heart of Midlothian completed their second summer signing with the addition of Cole Stockton. Joel Sked looks at what fans can expect from their new addition.
Cole Stockton becomes Hearts' second summer signing. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FCCole Stockton becomes Hearts' second summer signing. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC
Cole Stockton becomes Hearts' second summer signing. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC

“I’m a goalscorer.”

Hearts fans will have to be forgiven if they are sceptical about the goalscoring talents of recent signing Cole Stockton, even after his proclamations about his prowess at finding the net.

It’s not so much ‘fool me once, shame on you, but fail me twice...’ for supporters of the Gorgie side as fool me several times. Not since 1992 has a Hearts player scored 20 or more goals in a season. In all competitions. No wonder John Robertson is so revered in EH11. Season after season he put the ball in the back of the net. But it wouldn’t last forever.

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Many have tried but all have failed. From Jim Hamilton to Andrius Velicka, Rudi Skacel to Paul Hartley, Michael Stewart to Bruno Aguiar. No player has hit the 20-goal mark. Last season, Jamie Walker became only the second player to hit at least 15 since 2006.

Elsewhere, Michael Higdon, Liam Boyce, Kane Hemmings, John Sutton, Billy Mckay, Adam Rooney, Stevie May, Niall McGinn have all hit 20 goals in recent seasons - in the league alone.

Hearts even recruited Sutton, pining for him to recreate his goalscoring exploits at Tynecastle. The most he scored in a league campaign was eight.

Understandably, fans are not of the view that a player arriving from the fifth tier of English football is going to threaten too many goalkeepers, let alone goal nets.

Yet, while a host of strikers, from Edgaras Jankauskas to Mauricio Pinilla, Mike Tullberg to David Witteveen have not hit the heights expected or hoped, fans should look to other club sfor a glimmer of optimism. Billy Mckay arrived from Northampton Town. Motherwell’s Louis Moult was signed from Wrexham and Liam Boyce procured from Northern Ireland’s Cliftonville.

Stockton makes the move north from Tranmare Rovers on a two-year deal on the back of the best season in his career in terms of games, minutes and goals.

The 6ft1in Scouse forward came through at Wirral side Tranmere but found a regular run in the first-team difficult to come by, until the end of the past season. He had spells on loan at Vauxhall Motors, Southport and twice at Morecambe. It was at the Shrimps where he found his feet.

A short loan spell towards the end of the 2015-2016 season was enough to persuade Morecambe to bring the 23-year-old back the following season, although they had to settle for a six-month loan deal rather than their preferred option of the full 12 months, even though he couldn’t get in the team at Tranmere.

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He hit the back of the net 11 times before returning to the Rovers where he was entrusted with spearheading the attack. He started 14 consecutive league games for the Rovers for the first time in his career at Prenton Park as the side narrowly missed out on promotion from the National League before falling in the playoffs. Stockton hit five in the league and another three in the playoff semi-final win over Aldershot Town. Over the season he finished with a ratio of a goal every 174 minutes.

His form caught the eye of clubs in both Scotland and England, with Hearts convincing him his future was in Edinburgh after a phone call from Austin MacPhee.

But what sort of forward is he?

He told the Hearts website: “I’m a big strong striker but not like a target man. I can do both. I’m very good at holding the ball up, I can bring players into play around the box and I’m a goalscorer. But I can create chances for others.”

After a season of Conor Sammon, of hearing Bjorn Johnsen talk about how he is not a goal scorer and of frustratingly watching Esmael Goncalves stray away from the box, fans will be pleased to hear that Stockton is very much a central forward. A focal point, someone to play off and from.

He possesses a mid-range of qualities. He’s no slouch without being rapid, he is tall but not dominant, and strong and athletic without being bulky. This combination should mean he is a handful to centre-backs this season.

Strikers at the top level are required to be universal. Drift, drop deep, run channels, head, battle, create and score. But there is still a place for the ‘number 9’, especially in Scotland. Stockton is a number nine. The majority of his goals are scored from between the width of the posts and usually within 12 yards of goal.

A key strength is his ability to back in and pin a defender, from there he can act as a receiver, a deterrent or he will spin on to his preferred right-foot and try and get a strike away. Watching the forward to do this is reminiscent of Kris Boyd, in relative terms of course.

These skills should bring the best out of Isma. Towards the end of the season Johnsen appeared to shirk the physical aspects of the game, easily pushed off the ball, while offering little else. Isma is not a static striker, he likes to roam so Ian Cathro’s men were missing this point of convergence. Stockton is the type of forward who will bring this to the team.

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One can picture Isma picking up the ball from wide or deep, driving forward and playing it into Stockton with runners going wide, beyond and dropping off.

Hearts have not signed the real deal or the finished article. They have signed a player still looking to reach his potential. A player who played more than 1,800 minutes in a season for the first time in his career.

All fans would like a well-known player to come in but that has stung in the past. For an unknown like Stockton the expectation is lowered, while the intrigue is increased. Hearts fans will be hoping they have found their Louis Moult or Liam Boyce. Rather than another forward to add to the striker landfill, hauntingly named ‘Ghosts of Arek Klimek past’.