Remember last season? Kevin McHattie making Chris MIllar look like Franck Ribery, Brad McKay as Chewbacca, Jamie Hamill winning the ‘battle of the c***s and Paul McCallum being utter mince. Well this season was a pleasant change. Feedback is appreciated @sked21. Anyone disagreeing will be blocked and reported.
Neil Alexander – 8
Reliable, calm, confident; everything you want in a goalkeeper. There was Carlo Ancelotti-esque eyebrow raising following the release of Jamie MacDonald but Alexander was the ideal replacement as an experienced head who offered calm reassurance to the backline. Throughout the season, especially in the opening months, he excelled in taking the pressure off the defence with his confident and decisive approach to dealing with crosses and aided Robbie Neilson’s game plan, keen to play from the back.
He had a shaky spell not long after this article was penned but his mistakes leading to goals could be counted on Caitlyn Jenner’s penis. He is such a warm and comforting presence. You can imagine him being a great big spoon, making you feel warm and cosy, content with your lot in the world. Apparently a lifelong Hearts fan which means there is a 90 per cent chance he has a personality disorder.
Jack Hamilton & Scott Gallagher – 5
Any judgement on either goalkeeper would be labelled under ‘sweeping’. They both deputised ably when needed, albeit Hamilton conceded a penalty against Hibernian, without leaving a great impression. But what are these player ratings without sweeping statements. Neither will be good enough to dislodge Neil Alexander next season or even the season after that. Probably the one after that as well.
Lee Hollis – 3
When it comes to girls my friend has a rating system whereby if they can dress themselves they are automatically given a two. So that is a good starting point. Hollis was dreadful against Livingston and Stenhousemuir after being drafted in as an emergency. The antithesis of Alexander, nervy and seemingly perennially rattled by a football in his vicinity. An extra point is awarded after reading this. A confidence booster.
Callum Paterson – 7(.5)
The right back manages to provoke a wide range of emotion from this particular writer. Everything about his demeanour, attitude, crossing ability, refusal to learn frustrates and angers me. The sheer longevity of his moaning is particularly impressive; his approach to referees is akin to that of a teenager towards their mum who has just told his friends that he wet the bed until 10 years of age. However, I can’t not like him, plus he has an abundance of potential as a right-back and possibly, once he manages to find his inner zen, a centre back.
He looked lost as a wing-back against Hibs but few, if any, got the better of him when deployed at full-back. Any deficiencies in getting caught out of position were swept under the carpet due to his strength and pace. Where he disappointed was his attacking prowess. He is a strong runner and found himself in good positions but was often let down by some hapless crossing. He continued to be a real asset in both boxes for set pieces and scored a hum-dinger against Cowdenbeath which optimised his style: raw, powerful and with little thought, lashing a volley into the top corner after controlling on the head then chest.
Jordan McGhee – 6
The 19-year-old gained further first-team experience albeit mostly out of position at right-back. Thought of highly at the club and it is easy to understand why with his calm play, he should thrive under Neilson but requires further game time at centre back. He fell behind Brad McKay in the pecking order after a dreadful performance in the defeat at home to Falkirk where he was not so much a rabbit caught in the headlights, than a fly splattered into the windscreen. One thing he could take from McKay is the St Johnstone player’s aggressiveness.
Brad McKay – 6
Remember that scene in Jurassic Park (of course you do) where the velociraptors are trying to get in the control room and Dr Grant starts shooting at the glass? The scene cuts to John Hammond in the bunker and he screams with a mixture of anger and fear into the walkie-talkie. Well that was myself and my friend’s reaction to McKay starting a game. Any game. Yet . . . YET he was solid throughout the season, none more so than in the home win against Rangers . Okay he was pitted against Jon Daly but everything thrown at him was repelled with ease.
When it was official that he would not be at Tynecastle next season he was sent off against Livingston and looked utterly despondent as if he had played his last game but he came back and even managed to score in the penultimate game of the season. When it comes to actual football playing he looks uncomfortable and for that reason he will be missed for the intangibles, like heart and his off-field zaniness, rather than his on field presence.
Alim Ozturk – 9
I was close to soiling myself on more than one occasion in Ozturk’s first league game at Ibrox. It was more than just me thinking we had Marius Zaliukas MKII in our midst. But unlike Zal, who is still trying and failing to rid himself of the bombscare label, it only took Ozturk a matter of weeks.
The turning point came at Easter Road in October. Without Danny Wilson by his side he had to lead the backline and performed solidly before he saved the club’s unbeaten run with one majestically measured, beautifully belting, orgasmically orgasmic swing of his right foot, sending the ball from 40 yards over Mark Oxley. Despite Alan Stubbs’s claims otherwise he continued to do it throughout the season. His defensive performances were just as pleasing, displaying unrivalled composure, competency in the air and a generally good reading of the game. He did struggle against some of the more illusive strikers such as Jason Cummings and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the league above.
Danny Wilson – 8
There was no question Wilson struggled as the leader of the team in the Premiership but his performance level this past season reached a high at Tynecastle, the caveat being that he was playing against second-tier strikers.
Wilson doesn’t offer the adventure of Ozturk but he is arguably the most gifted centre-back when in possession outside of Celtic, even if he is prone to the clipped ball up the striker that infuriates this writer to the point of self-harm. There has were times this past season where some of his defending, whether in his composure, nipping in ahead of a striker, perfecting a Takis Fyssas-esque slide tackle, drew ‘oohhs’ and ‘aaahhhs’ from the crowd. Every now and then though he displayed raggedness, especially with the more physical aspect of the game. The Falkirk defeat was a particular low-light. Having taken a step back in his career it should act as a springboard for further progression, including back into the Scotland fold. A pity that he won’t be continuing his partnership woth Ozturk in the Premiership.
Adam Eckersley – 7
Signed to provide competition to Kevin McHattie and experience, it was expected the ginger Mancunian would be the second-choice left-back. But an injury-plagued season for McHattie coupled with a string of consistent performances from the former Manchester United player saw him become first choice in the eyes of Neilson and a favourite in eyes of Hearts fans.
First and foremost he took care of his defensive responsibilities. Tenacious and forthright, his no nonsense approach endeared him to the crowd and meant he stood up to the physical requirements of the league. He was a reliable performer with the required know-how as to when to tuck in and support the centre halves, and as he became more attuned to what was expected of him in an attacking sense he provided sufficient width in the attacking third. After the switch to a narrow midfield his offerings higher up the pitch became as useful as his defensive nous, even if his crossing is not the standard of McHattie. He went from the ridiculous by scoring a comical own goal at Celtic Park to the sublime when putting a fitting finishing touch to a sweeping attack against Queen of the South. Will be missed next season.
Kevin McHattie – 6
The 21-year-old had a frustrating season where a promising start gave way to injury then some below par end of season appearances. He struggled as first choice left-back in the Premiership but looked more at home at Championship level and hit the ground running from the start with a number of positive displays. He was excellent in an attacking sense, linking well with whichever wide man played ahead of him as well as Osman Sow and at times Jason Holt.
He suffered a bad injury following a hefty challenge from Kenny Miller which kept him out for months. Returning to fitness in the closing months, he may have wished he just kept his feet up until the end of the season. His performances were more of last season’s fare as he looked weak and ponderous, not helped by a disastrous 37 minutes in the final derby where he played as the left-sided centre back in a back three. There was also another inadequate display at Ibrox where he was easily outmanoeuvred by Haris Vuckic.
Morgaro Gomis – 9
The Fresh Prince to Prince Buaben’s Carlton Banks. Cool, confident, suave. One wouldn’t be the same without the other. The duo had fans purring. Eyes would meet, no words, just a look which said ‘oh boy do we have a midfield here’. Giddiness was palpable early in the season. The former United midfield pairing dovetailed telepathically.
The pair acted as jump leads, taking turns kick-starting attacks from deep. But it was ‘Jimmy’ Gomis who was most influential in this aspect, taking the ball under pressure, inviting opponents onto him before wriggling free or shifting the ball around the corner to a more penetrative team mate who has more space to work in. His nonchalant approach was replicated off field, never has a man made camply eating a Krspy Kreme so cool.
Opposition teams soon pressed high up the park and Gomis was caught in possession for a goal in the defeat to Falkirk, yet Gomis continued to play in the same unflappable manner and even influenced games further up the park with the introduction of Miguel Pallardo beside him.
Prince Buaben – 8
While Gomis is the more perspicacious player, Buaben added directness, dynamism and power to a midfield which had been lacking in all three areas the previous season. In the early months he bulldozed his way through games, making a mockery of the division. It was best epitomised in the first victory over Queen of the South where he burst forward and slammed in a second after a period of Doonhamers domination.
His form as the season progressed faltered as a lack of pre-season caught up with the Ghanaian. He was shifted around midfield from the tip of the midfield to the side of a diamond. But more than anything he was an assuring presence whenever he played. Willing to get on the ball and willing to drive the team forward. It was disappointing to see him miss the end of the season but more than played his part.
Miguel Pallardo – 9
If Gomis is Fresh Prince and Buaben is Carlton Banks then Pallardo is simply GOD. The Argentinean Hearts twitter account termed him PallarDIOS – DIOS of course meaning GOD in Spanish. He was one of the last players to arrive following the summer recruitment drive and he came from La Liga. And it showed. And boy it showed. And he was magnificent. And I think I am in love.
No pace and no real dynamism. Yet what he lacks in that area he makes up for in his intelligence in and out of possession – the personification of simplicity. Even when confronted by three grizzly lower league hackers, facing his own goal, 20 yards out he has the level-headedness to remain calm and taken them all out the game with a simple pass or swivel of the hips. Yet there is more to PallarDIOS’s game than his comforting relationship with the ball. His reading of the game separates him from the mere mortals he goes up against. If the Brits weren’t so trite when it comes to nicknames, PallarDIOS would be the fire extinguisher (El Extintor). He was constantly busy, breaking up attacks, intercepting, committing the odd cynical foul which endeared him even further to this writer. It was this coalescence of genuine football ability and the grittier side of the game which earned him a new contract and adulation from the sipport.
Jason Holt – 6
I expected big things from Holt under Neilson and it started brightly. He was used rotationally and was a darting presence from the central role. However, it did not last and he left for Sheffield United midway through the season. He did present an early leaving present, firing in a ferocious volley to set up a 2-0 win over Rangers.
Too often his presence on the field was too passive, his passing safe despite being both a highly technical and intelligent footballer. A performance, or lack of, against Livingston around New Year stands out in particular when he was given a chance to flourish. Simply put Neilson preferred players ahead of him whether at the tip of midfield or deeper. A player who could have grown more had he broke through under the management of Neilson.
Kenny Anderson – 5
A January arrival, he was touted as being the player to add more penetration and forward runs from the midfield. It was an illuminating start for the Dutch midfielder with a crucial goal against Livingston on his debut in front of around 6,000 travelling fans; a goal reminiscent to those netted by Paul Hartley.
However, Anderson was less Zico and more . . . Anderson as he took a role on the periphery making it difficult to judge whether he is going to be an asset in the Premiership.
Scott Robinson – 6
Here’s to you Scotty Robinson, Robbie doesn’t love you anymore . . . One of the players earmarked for an early departure but for one reason or another he hung around. Not so much a bad smell, more an unscented oven cleaner.
When sporadically called upon he has not let anyone down, offering competent displays in the midfield. But ultimately fifth choice and still remembered as one half of the midfield duo which made you not only question the point of football but the point of life as well – Jamie Hamill can take much of the blame. It is good for him to move on and start anew elsewhere. Like Holt if he broke through under Neilson is career may have followed a different path.
Jamie Walker – 9
The tattoos. The hair. The inspirational quote pictures on Instagram. His dog. Everything that is wrong with the modern man (this of course being written by a gritty, no-nonsense man who has just finished another shift at the coalface). But by jingo he can play soccer. The season didn’t start off too well for the fans’ player of the year as he spent time as back-up to Sam Nicholson and Billy King, prompting some of those aforementioned Instagram pictures.
But a player of Walker’s talent can’t be kept on the bench for too long and he soon found his way to the top of the pecking order becoming increasingly undroppable as the season progressed. If the team was ever in need of inspiration in the second half of the season Walker was often the man to turn to. From his familiar role on the wing, Walker soon took up a more central role at the tip of a midfield diamond as Neilson vied to keep ahead of opponents. Walker was a driving presence, sashaying between and away from defenders, committing players, all of which was complete with a more consistent end product as shown by his 11 goals, including six goals in eight when the team’s performances dropped.
Sam Nicholson – 8
It is a miracle the 20-year-old is still alive. An abiding image of the season was when Livingston’s Jason Talbot planted his boot onto Nicholson’s face. Nicholson was standing upright. The most amusing part of the incident was Nicholson saying his mum was not impressed with the challenge. I can picture it now, Nicholson sheepishly sitting in the passenger’s seat as his mum drives around to Talbot’s house to give him a stern telling off.
Nicholson lit up the division in the opening months, scoring what proved to be the winning goal in the first derby with an unbelievable strike after nutmegging Scott Robertson. His performances were intoxicating as he terrorised defences with his weaving runs and ability to use both feet to a similar standard. He was one of the first names of the team sheet during the exhilarating early run. Whether being kicked in the face affected him it is certainly a good marker in the season when his performances began to dip as the formation changed.
Billy King – 8
King doesn’t offer the pace and excitement of his fellow attacking cohorts Walker and Nicholson. He doesn’t possess the same power and when he gets on the ball there is not one person on Earth who knows where he is going to go, how he is going to get there and what he is going to do to get there. If there is one person that would empathise with King it is Michael Scott from The Office US. But in the end he does get somewhere. Somewhere useful. Having watched King for a little over two seasons I still don’t know what his ‘strongest’ foot is, it just seems to change from game to game. That in itself leads to a certain sense of unpredictability which is a good quality for a wide player and helped when he got into shooting positions anywhere around the box.
The past season has been a largely positive one for his development. He has achieved substantial game time and has arguably been the club’s most efficient attacker providing crucial moments throughout the season; assists against Livingston when it was goalless and likewise against Queen of the South – situations where the club’s title challengers would have dropped points. He twists and turns, drops the shoulder one way and goes the other, bobs and weaves. At times it is like watching a kid in the playground running away from bigger bullies in a game of Bulldogs. He is a slippery customer and tormented more than a few full-backs with his side steps and step overs. He was just as useful from the bench as he was starting. With the game more open he had more space to operate from the bench compared to when starting. If teams defended in numbers he often got crowded out and out-muscled to the point he would lose interest. But overall he held his own in the triumvirate and posted some very good #numbers.
Soufian El-Hassanoui – 6
The Moroccan came highly touted much to the excitement of the fans; few better things to arouse fans than an unknown exotic signing who has a ‘reputation’. But it has been an injury plagued first season. Without a proper pre-season under his belt he struggled to make an impact when fit, his nadir coming in the derby at Easter Road where he messed up a wonderful opportunity to put the team ahead. A goal against Livingston did not open the floodgates before more injury issues.
From the fleeting appearances it was difficult to decipher what his main attributes were. But after the New Year once his fitness improved goals came sporadically and he fans started to see a glimmer of talent. It became clear that he operated best behind a striker with his best performance coming in the penultimate game of the season against Rangers, displaying a mixture of work rate and quality on the ball.
Osman Sow – 9
Goals flowed throughout pre-season and into the first game of the campaign, the striker sweeping in a glorious injury-time winner to enamour him instantly to the Gorgie hordes. For so long the club had been without a, what’s the term I am looking for here, ahh yes, good striker. Sow came in and offered pace, mobility, skill, link-up play and a genuine goal threat. Although the first derby demonstrated that despite his height he wasn’t one for heading the ball, elbowing Michael Nelson as his frustration at being dominated in the air got the best of him. But his movement and ingenuity with and without the ball was an integral part of the club’s early scintillating form and performances; Sow quickly built up an understanding with Keatings while the likes of King, Nicholson and Walker thrived playing behind.
His relaxed style of play may infuriate some Hearts fans, appearing one reggae beat away from lying on the turf and firing up a spliff. But some of the skill he conjures up is outrageous, as was an indirect free-kick at Alloa but on the other end of the spectrum. It was no surprise that the team’s performances dipped when he struggled with injury during the middle part of the season. Supposedly did a really smelly shit at Alloa.
James Keatings – 8
I think the word I used to describe the signing of Keatings to a friend was ‘pointless’. With Sow, El-Hass, Dale Carrick and Gary Oliver the club seemed to have a suitable attacking arsenal for an assault on the Championship. Keatings made me soon eat my words with a fine hat-trick against Raith Rovers. He hit it off with Sow and proved to be an enterprising forward. He was always able to sniff out chances and possessed a ferocious left-foot shot not too dissimilar to a certain Rudi Skacel.
There were some fine strikes, at home to Queen of the South stands out as well as sharp strike away at Alloa, however he did have games where he was wasteful in front of goal. Due to injuries to Sow, El-Hass and Carrick he was left to furrow his own cause in attack. It became a frustrating experience for both him and those watching on. The spell around the New Year may have affected Neilson’s judgement of the player as he became bit-part towards the end of the season and eventually released. Now plays for Hibernian. He was fucking humpty all along. Worst striker since Arek Klimek.
Genero Zeefuik – 8
The league campaign was going so well for the Jam Tarts that Neilson decided to experiment by signing the club’s first ever offensive tackle. How would a player built for the NFL cope? It turns out pretty well. Twelve goals in only 15 appearances was an excellent return. With Keatings struggling as a lone striker he provided more than adequate cover, in fact he became the club’s main striker.
He got off the mark with a double on his debut, while he will be most fondly remembered for the quickest hat-trick in Heart of Midlothian history. Albeit there were two penalties. Albeit they came against Cowdenbeath. As well as two goals from the bench to rescue a point against Rangers. Neilson was eager to recruit a striker with a physical presence and he certainly gave the team just that but despite his goal haul Zeefuik was often too static and too central. He wanted the ball to feet in and around the box so he could roll defenders and fire in towards goal. He didn’t offer the same range of qualities as Sow did. His part in the league winning side will be remembered but he’ll unlikely be missed.
Dale Carrick, Gary Oliver, Sean McKirdy and any others – Didn’t feature enough or provide as much comedy to warrant many words. It was disappointing for Carrick to have such an injury hit season following a fine end to the 2013-2104 season, while Oliver is a livewire striker who should benefit from another loan spell, likely in the Championship, next season. I wasn’t at the game where McKirdy featured.
Robbie Neilson – 9
From Gary Locke to Robbie Neilson. From Jessica Simpson to Ashlee Simpson. From Geordie Shore to Jersey Shore. From Nuts to Playboy. You get the drift (I reiterate Ashlee Simpson is by far the superior sister). There was a lot of sympathy for Locke when he was let go which was understandable as the team looked on the up towards the end of the relegation season but it was still a pitiful season despite all the problems and it was correct to start fresh. And freshness is what Neilson has brought as well as professionalism, an eye to detail, work ethic and a pleasing style of play.
Helped by the experience of Craig Levein in the director of football role as well as a solid foundation in the boardroom – literally decades that that can be said about Heart of Midlothian – Neilson quickly got his ideas across to the playing staff. The one aspect of the team’s game plan which was evident in the early weeks was that the team actually had a game plan. It was clear that the players had been drilled on the training ground in how to progress with the ball from back to front in a purposeful yet patient manner. There was evidence of the players being able to carry out swift transitions and there were attacking patterns. The only patterns seen last season were in Locke’s and Billy Brown’s colouring in books. The 4-1 defeat of Falkirk in game four was the high point of the opening rounds of the season in terms of performance. It was four going on 14. There was an effervescence about the team’s play as the ball was circulated through and around midfield with pace, there were runners off the ball into space, there was link play. Not guess work or fortune but measured attacking play which the opposition just simply had to take. Neilson’s fashion style was replicated on the field. The three training sessions were proving incredibly useful as the team reached an operatic harmony.
It has not been all plain sailing as you would expect for a 34-year-old in his first managerial position. Despite a solid record against Hibernian and Rangers, Neilson was bettered by Alan Stubbs in each game, the low point coming in the 2-0 defeat when a 3-5-2 did not work just as the 4-4-2 failed to pay dividends in the first Easter Road derby. Even against Rangers, the Jam Tarts did not showcase the 24 point gulf that separated the clubs at the end of the season. But in the end a record points haul in the Championship and as the popular ditty in Section G went, Robbie Neilson is a sex machine.
WRITTEN JOEL SKED
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