He may already have Liam Boyce, Steven Naismith and Craig Wighton on his books – three forwards that would walk into every Championship team – but with promotion back to the Premiership a wholly realistic prospect, Neilson is preparing to enhance his squad.
While Hearts have the league’s best striker in Boyce, they desire a physical striker who is able to link up play as a No.9 and offer them something different. That’s why Walsall striker Elijah Adebayo, a 23-year-old, 6ft 4in hitman, fits the bill.
Walsall want a fee for Adebayo, whose contract at the Bescot Stadium expires at the end of the season. They have their own promotion ambitions as they challenge for the League Two play-offs, so Hearts will have to cough up some sort of financial settlement if they want him to arrive this month.
Adebayo has scored eight times in 27 appearances across all competition for Walsall this season. Last term he bagged the same number of goals in 37 matches.
He came through the youth ranks at Fulham, where he began his career as a striker. However, the youth coaches at Craven Cottage spotted potential as a central defender due to his physique and ability to read the game well.
Adebayo never managed to break into the first team though and was farmed out on various loan spells between 2018 and 2019 to Cheltenham, Swindon and Stevenage. His contract at Fulham ended in the summer of 2019 and that’s when Walsall swooped to get him.
Born in Brent but of Nigerian descent, Adebayo has been a permanent fixture in Darrell Clarke’s Walsall starting XI. The West Midlands club play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Adebayo as the spearhead. His goal record is not overwhelming, but his job is just not just to score, but to bring others into play. He is regarded as an unselfish striker, prepared to hold the ball up, run channels and create space for others.
Clarke has been impressed with his development at Walsall. Speaking in December, the Walsall manager said: “We work with players all the time on all aspects of the game and Elijah will tell you that we’ve done a lot of work with him getting across the front and making good runs in the box. He’s got his just rewards over a period of the last three or four games. He has to keep working and improving because on his day he’s unplayable.
“It’s not just a game thing, it’s a period of time now where Eli has improved. It’s been massive over a six, eight-month period. Like all players he’ll chuck in a bad game, but he’s improved.”
His importance to his current club cannot be understated, hence why they are demanding cash. He was named in the League Two team of the week just two days ago.
Of course, Hearts have shopped in this market before – Uche Ikpeazu and Cole Stockton spring to mind – but with new sporting director Joe Savage in place, they want to make an impact with signings.
Adebayo is high on their wish list – whether they can prise him away is another matter.