A gap has appeared at the top of Hearts’ team-sheet for Saturday’s visit of Dundee.
With Spanish striker Juanma suspended, Gavin Reilly is a strong contender to have his name etched alongside Osman Sow up front. It may be the perfect chance to endear himself to the Tynecastle support.
Reilly’s Hearts career has yet to properly commence after his arrival on a three-year deal from Queen of the South in June. He has amassed only four starts, one goal and a red card for violent conduct against Kilmarnock last month.
Fans questioning him are advised to stay patient and trust that he will not only deliver, but earn the Edinburgh club a sizeable profit on the five-figure fee they paid Queen of the South for his transfer.
James Fowler, manager at Palmerston Park, is convinced Reilly has the potential to succeed in the Premiership having overseen his 15 goals in the Championship last season.
Saturday could see the 22-year-old come to life in a maroon shirt if Robbie Neilson, the Hearts head coach, grants him the opportunity. If not, he still has plenty time to develop into a Capital asset.
“His biggest strength is his goalscoring instinct. He’s a natural finisher,” said Fowler. “His work-rate and the runs he makes stood out for me as well. I know Robbie really liked him after Hearts played against us last year. He signed a three-year deal so Robbie will be looking at him for the long-term.
“Gavin’s still young. It’s a step up going from the Championship to the Premiership but it’s also a step up in size of club. Hearts is a big club who have had a really good start to the season and there’s a lot of expectation there. He didn’t come in as the main striker, either, because there are a lot of good forwards at Hearts. They signed Juanma as well as Gavin and he’s proven to be a real find.
“I’ve watched him a couple of times playing for Hearts Under-20s and he’s still the same Gavin Reilly. His first few months there have been a wee bit stop-start and he’s been sent off as well, but long-term he will definitely produce. It’s about being patient and letting him find his feet. He’s moved to Edinburgh now after being used to living at home with his parents. All that takes time to adapt to.
“Gavin’s having to find his feet in a new environment, make new friends at a new club in a big city. He’s having to do things for himself, which is another aspect to everything he has to deal with. I’ve no doubt he’ll definitely score goals. Maybe after Christmas, once he’s been there five or six months and got a run in the team, he will produce for Robbie.”
Reilly has had to sit in reserve mostly, with Juanma and Sow in firm command of starting slots up front. Substitute appearances and under-20 outings have made showcasing his true ability almost impossible.
Having paid a fee to secure his signature, Hearts are keen that he is given the appropriate time to force his way into the team on a regular basis.
“The fee was relative to the age he is but Robbie was a big fan and wanted to get him in,” explained Fowler. “There was interest from other clubs as well but the way Robbie is going about things, developing players and using individual coaching, was a factor. Having Stevie Crawford there will be a massive help for Gavin as well.
“He’s signed a three-year deal so that first year can always be a settling-in period. I’m sure he’ll kick on.
“He’s a goalscorer who knows how to work defenders. He’s full of energy and works really hard for the team. As a manager, you’re always looking for that combination. Sometimes you get goalscorers who can be a wee bit lazy. Gav isn’t like that. He’s got the potential to get in the Hearts team and score goals. Teams are always looking for goalscorers so the potential is there for him to kick on and then Hearts can recoup their money, plus more.”
Fowler saw his own team almost dismantled over the summer as a host of highly-rated players headed to bigger clubs, mostly in the Premiership. He lost experienced mainstays like Ian McShane, Danny Carmichael, Kevin Holt and Mark Durnan. Replacing Reilly was always likely to be one of his more difficult close-season assignments.
He initially signed Dale Hilson from Forfar before agreeing another deal with Hearts to take Gary Oliver to Palmerston.
“Ian McShane left us for Ross County, Danny Carmichael went to Hibs but has been injured, Kevin Holt has been in and out of the team at Dundee, Mark Durnan has played a lot for Dundee United but they are struggling. It does take time when you make that step up. These boys were all at Queen of the South for a while and it’s that comfort zone.
“We brought Dale Hilson in thinking he would be a similar replacement for Gavin, but he’s picked up a couple of injuries and only played a few games. Gavin is a difficult one to replace.
“We got Gary Oliver in and I think Hearts let him go more for his benefit than their own. I know Robbie and Craig Levein [director of football] saw him as having a future there but he was at an age where he needed to play. I was really happy to get him.”
Hearts wisely inserted a sell-on clause in the deal for Oliver, meaning if he is sold for a higher fee then a percentage is passed on to Tynecastle.
“There are clauses in the deal so that Hearts will benefit if he does well here,” admitted Fowler. “Hearts allowed him to go to get some game time. I was surprised to get him but I can see their sense if he comes here and develops because it benefits them in the longer term.”