Eleven goals in the last three matches suggests Hearts’ forward line is firing on every cylinder. Nonetheless, their attacking options are about to increase. New signing Kenny Anderson is ready to debut against Livingston tomorrow afternoon and Soufian El Hassnaoui is fit again after injury.
Head coach Robbie Neilson already has James Keatings in scintillating form with six goals in his last eight appearances. Add Genero Zeefuik, Osman Sow and the predatory Gary Oliver into the mix and most teams would feel intimidated by Hearts’ attacking strength. Livingston, the Championship’s bottom club, face a daunting task tomorrow.
Neilson must decide whether to play Anderson from the start or name him as a substitute at the Energy Assets Arena. The 22-year-old is predominantly a midfielder who favours a central role in behind a main striker – the traditional No.10 position. International clearance for his transfer from RKC Waalwijk is in and he is eager to make an early impression.
Prince Buaben will serve a one-match suspension as Hearts travel to West Lothian, which may create the necessary void to slot Anderson in. His arrival, according to Neilson, brings a new dimension to the forward line. El Hassnaoui’s return after a three-month ankle problem merely adds to an already fiercely-competitive area.
After Hearts lashed five goals at Dumbarton, two against Falkirk and four at Alloa, Livingston may cringe at their opponents’ muscle-flexing.
“Wednesday was Anderson’s first day training with us but I’m pleased with him,” Neilson told the Evening News. “He looks good and he’s settled into the group. We have a few Dutch boys, but he also speaks very good English so he’s fitted in no problem. He will be considered for Saturday. He’s in the squad and we’ll take it from there.
“He’s an attacking midfielder who makes good runs in behind the defence. We have guys who are really good at sitting defensively, we really needed somebody who will go and make some penetrating runs. He likes to try and get on to things in the penalty area. He’s a good player and I believe he’ll fit into the way we play really well.
“He gives us a different option. When we’re bringing in players I always try to get someone who will add something to the squad and I think Kenny will. He’s not like the players we’ve got at the moment. He gives us an extra dimension.
“We’re lucky at the moment that we’ve got a lot of good strikers at the club at the moment and a lot of guys who are on form. El Hassnaoui played for the under-20s on Tuesday and did well. He worked hard and is getting his fitness back so. Hopefully that can add more firepower. Soufian is a big player for us.”
Neilson appears to revel in the amount of firepower at his disposal as he tries to keep all forwards and attacking midfielders happy. “It’s a team game and we have a squad that’s together. The boys all respect each other,” he explained. “They understand they aren’t going to play in every single game. They respect the abilities of other players who will come in and do a job and then others will drop out.
“The squad is changing all the time, they just have to be ready and be prepared to wait for their chance. When they get it, they have to grasp it. The players know it’s not going to be the same XI that play every week. It doesn’t matter whether they start the game or finish the game, it’s just as important.”
Buaben’s absence will likely mean Morgaro Gomis and Miguel Pallardo playing together in central midfield. “We have a number of players who can play in that central role. Obviously, this alters our thinking slightly because Prince is not available. That’s part of football with the way he plays. He works hard and he’s aggressive in winning the ball back, so he picks up bookings. That’s the reason we have a big squad, to cover for that sort of thing.”
Livingston’s position at the foot of the table makes Neilson slightly wary. His own team are 16 points clear at the top and looking to extend that lead over Rangers to 19 points this weekend, as the Glasgow club are again on cup duty. The Hearts head coach watched Livingston draw 0-0 with Alloa on Tuesday evening and noted some potential danger.
Last time the clubs met in December, it required a solitary goal from Keatings to secure Hearts’ victory. “I went to the game on Tuesday night and I thought Livingston played quite well. They tried to pass the ball about quite well, they have [Jordan] White up front as a target man who makes it difficult and they get runners off of him.
“It was hard when we went there the last time. That was only Mark Burchill’s second game in charge. He’s had a bit of time to get his ideas across now so this will be a difficult one. Especially at this time of the season because both teams are desperate for points. We’re desperate at the top, Livingston are desperate at the bottom. It’s up to us to go there and earn the win. We took this game tomorrow because it was originally a free weekend for us, but we wanted to continue playing.”