A YEAR ago, Hearts brought fresh impetus to their Championship title charge with the arrival of Genero Zeefuik.
The bustling Dutch hitman came in on a loan deal until the end of the season, scored a double on his debut and ended up as the Tynecastle side’s top league scorer with 12 goals.
Robbie Neilson is hoping Hearts can pull off a similar piece of business this month by adding another striker to augment an attack currently comprising Juanma Delgado, Osman Sow and Gavin Reilly. However, he admits it is a difficult task trying to unearth a forward at this stage of the season who is guaranteed to come in and make the kind of impact Zeefuik did.
“I’ve been trying to get a striker in but it’s difficult at this time of year to get exactly what you want. We did really well last year to get Genero in but it’s always a gamble at this time of the season because you don’t know what their fitness is going to be like. Generally with a striker at this time of year, unless you’re willing to pay big money, you’re likely to be getting a player who is out of the picture somewhere else and hasn’t been playing many games. We just continue to look. There’s a few names, but it’s proving difficult.
“I’d prefer something long term but it’s difficult to do at this time of year unless you’ve got money to buy players, so it could be a loan.”
One of those on Hearts’ wanted list is Sam Gallagher, the 20-year-old Southampton forward who has spent the first half of the season on loan at English Championship side MK Dons. Neilson, however, admits his side are not favourites to land the young prospect.
“He’s a good player who is attracting a lot of interest in England. Southampton are going to hold on to him for a while and decide what to do with him, so we’ll wait and see. He’s a player that I like but ultimately it’s down to Southampton to decide what his next step is.
“That could go to the end of the window, so we don’t want to leave ourselves open to going to the last minute and then missing out on a player, so we need to keep our eye on different things and keep things moving.
“Sam Gallagher has done well at MK Dons and we’d like to get him but I’d expect his next step to be the English Championship.”
Neilson insists Hearts have not made any moves to recruit anyone on a pre-contract for next season. “I’m more focused on trying to get something in just now, if I can,” he said. “Once this window’s out the way, we’ll have a look and see what’s out there for the summer.”
The head coach, meanwhile, is determined to ensure the focus of his players doesn’t shift to next month’s eagerly-awaited Scottish Cup clash with Hibs until they have negotiated their next three league fixtures, at home to Motherwell today and then away to Hamilton and Inverness.
“We’ve got three tough games before it against Motherwell, we then go to Hamilton on the astro, which is always difficult, and then we got to Inverness, the Scottish Cup holders. So it’s three difficult games before we think about the Hibs games. As a coaching staff, we’ll starting looking at it but the players have to focus on the next game.
“The players will be thinking about getting their place for the Hibs game but you have to stay focused as well. The only way you’ll get a game in it is by doing well and being consistent. We need to concentrate on our game against a Motherwell team that are probably the in-form team in Scotland so we can’t take our eye off the ball.”
When the draw was made on Monday evening, several Hibs players on social media immediately exclaimed their excitement at the prospect of a derby. In stark contrast, the Hearts players were notably quiet. “It’s not a policy, they can say what they want but I don’t think they’re going to come out and start talking about it too early and starting making comments about it,” said Neilson. “The players are pretty disciplined in that way that they don’t speak about the football side of it on social media or Twitter.”
Neilson watched with amusement as Hibs manager Alan Stubbs engaged in some sustained pre-match verbal sparring with his Rangers counterpart in the run-up to last month’s Championship showdown at Ibrox. Hearts’ head coach insists he is not fazed by the prospect of Stubbs attempting to crank up the heat on his side prior to the cup tie three weeks tomorrow.
“It’s up to Alan, I don’t know [if there will be mind games],” Neilson smiled. “If Alan wants to do it it’s up to him. It’s starting to get like boxing matches sometimes before big games and I think eventually we’re going to have managers in doing press conferences together before it. It’s quite entertaining and to be honest it built the hype up and made everyone talk about [the Rangers-Hibs game]. You got a full house at Ibrox and you had everyone talking about it. If that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he wants to do.”