Paulo SERGIO is determined to inject creativity into Hearts. With that in mind, Mehdi Taouil could find himself with an increasingly important role to play. The diminutive Moroccan is ready to kickstart his Tynecastle career after overcoming a groin injury and was today tipped to become a first-team mainstay in the forthcoming weeks.
Allan Johnston, the former Hearts winger who played alongside Taouil at Kilmarnock, believes his old colleague will mesmerise supporters once he reaches full capacity. Taouil looked energetic and dangerous during a brief substitute appearance at Inverness on Saturday but will hope for increased exposure if Sergio is seeking flair.
Three appearances to date – two as substitute – underline the midfielder’s lack of impact at Hearts after his summer arrival as a free agent from Kilmarnock. The groin complaint flared up in the season-opening SPL meeting with Rangers, forcing him into the treatment room from where he has emerged tentatively.
Brief cameo outings at White Hart Lane and the Caledonian Stadium indicate the need to fight for a first-team place, however Johnston, right, expects Taouil to dazzle once he finds his rhythm. “It’s hard for any player to come on and make an impact as a sub. That’s not ideal,” said the 37-year-old, now player- coach at Queen of the South and who scored the winner in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Hamilton. “As soon as Mehdi gets a start in the team I can’t imagine him being left out. He’ll be a regular for certain.
“I can’t speak highly enough about him, he’s such a top player who is hard to contain and hard to play against. He’s also a bubbly character who believes in himself. Everybody gets frustrated when they aren’t playing, especially through injury. He’s just the same as anybody else in that way but he’ll be positive about the impact he can make. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.
“He has a lot of creativity and he can make things happen. There aren’t many players who can create goals out of nothing but Mehdi has the talent to do that. He can beat players and see passes, just an all-round talented player who could make the difference in any team.
“The Hearts supporters would have seen him play against their team for Killie, now they’ll be looking forward to seeing him get a run in the side. It doesn’t matter if somebody gets tight to him because he’s got the ability to turn away from them and leave them standing. He’s a top player and the fans will love him when he gets going. If you’ve got somebody like that to bring in who hasn’t been available much, it’s fantastic. Mehdi is always going to create openings. You only need to look at how well Kilmarnock did well last year when they had him and Alexei Eremenko feeding off one another in the middle of the park. I prefer Mehdi in a central area when he can get on the ball, he’s a lot more effective in there.”
With John Sutton apparently deemed surplus to requirements, the attacking void could be Taouil’s to fill if he can convince Sergio of his credentials. Kevin Kyle is hopeful of returning from injury next month, whilst Stephen Elliott scored his first goal of the season against Inverness. Competition, therefore, is plentiful.
“I think both Elliott and Kyle can benefit from Mehdi,” continued Johnston.
“He gets into wider areas and puts crosses into the box. He’ll also put passes in behind defenders and any striker would be delighted to play alongside him because he’s always going to make things happen for them. Forwards want to score as many goals as possible, so having someone like that behind you creating things every week can only make you look better. It’s still early in the season and you can’t judge Hearts as a team just now. They definitely have the players there to do well so hopefully they can push on. Mehdi has been missing and he’s a top player to bring in and add to the mix. There aren’t many teams pay money for players nowadays, certainly in Scotland, but Hearts did a great piece of business getting Mehdi when other teams were after him.”
He stands just 5ft 5ins tall, but Johnston fully believes Mehdi Taouil harbours the potential to make a massive impact on the rest of Hearts’ season.