The exciting winger who loves playing against Hibs - Why Gary Mackay-Steven is the signing Hearts fans have been craving

When it comes to a bedazzling winger pitching up at Tynecastle with a Celtic past, Hearts have history.

By Joel Sked
Saturday, 9th January 2021, 1:37 pm
Gary Mackay-Steven has the potential to be devastating for Hearts. Picture: SNS
Gary Mackay-Steven has the potential to be devastating for Hearts. Picture: SNS

Not the sort of ‘history’ you would associate with these two Scottish clubs, namely infamy and ill-feeling, instead it is positive history.

June 1985, the month Hearts completed the signing of an attacker who hadn’t yet turned 22. Across two spells in EH11 he would turn opposition full-backs into Flumps – the chewy sweet, not the kids TV show – and earn the adoration of the Tynecastle crowd.

John Colquhoun, to this day, remains a hero and favourite to so many Hearts supporters.

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No one, it could be argued, is better placed to express and explain about what it is like to be a winger at Tynecastle and succeed.

“It was a beautiful feeling," Colquhoun tweeted on Saturday morning, “getting that ball out wide being aware of a crackle of excitement from the terracing and stands at Tynie as I drove forward at a full back and then the amazing feeling if it ended up in a goal, if GMS feels 50% of that he is will be very lucky.”

Marquee signing

Already there is an expectancy surrounding new recruit Gary Mackay-Steven to produce those moments, albeit without fans for the foreseeable future. After all, this is a player with three Premiership titles, an abundance of top-flight experience, a Scotland international who has also played in Europe and MLS.

The winger has enjoyed himself against Hibs. Picture: SNS

He is a marquee signing.

At this point, it should be noted that Hearts have not had the best record in recent years with regards to players who arrive with a glittering CV or with plenty of hype.

It is, however, hard not to look past the fact that Mackay-Steven, on a checklist of what is needed at Tynecastle, ticks all the boxes.

He's fast, he provides width, he's skilful, he’s exciting, he’s a game-changer and match-winner. With one signing, Robbie Neilson’s side have instantly become a much bigger threat on the counter-attack. The 30-year-old will provide Hearts with pace and directness that can take the team up the pitch with no messing about.

‘I like to take people on’

In a chat with HeartsTV, the player noted his ability to play anywhere in the "attacking third” but, music to fans’ ears, Robbie Neilson sees him “predominantly as a wide player".

Mackay-Steven said: "I like to get on the ball, take people on, showcase what I can do. Dribble, create chances and hopefully score a few goals along the way.”

A look at the player’s stats over the last few seasons show he is not much of a crosser, perhaps explained by being played one right, cutting in on his left foot. But there is no question he loves a dribble – in his two seasons at Aberdeen he was in the top 10 for most prolific dribblers in the top-flight.

For supporters, however, Gary Mackay-Steven isn't solely about stats – he has nearly 60 career goals and even more assists – he is an experience.

At Pittodrie he could be inconsistent. Which is par for the course with most wingers. In a ten game period, he could be subdued in half of those, provide a moment of substance or wonderment in another four. Then in one game, he could be devastating. A genuine top-class winger.

He was part of that Dundee United side which should have achieved so much more than fourth place and a Scottish Cup final in 2014. GMS, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Gauld and Nadir Ciftci were the attacking arsenal, Andy Robertson at left-back.

GMS the magician

In terms of excitement, of producing that gasp of shock and awe from supporters with one flick of the boot, shuffle of the hips, it was Mackay-Steven. And that has continued throughout his career.

He is the magician shuffling a ball amongst three cups, lulling participants into a game they are not winning. Follow where the ball is, follow where the ball is, follow where the ball is. Not once are they in control of what they are seeing and what is going to happen next.

One of his early memorable moments came at Rugby Park against Kilmarnock for United. He chest the ball down and for a couple of seconds it appeared he had mastered the art of telekinesis before flicking the ball over an opponent on to his head to knock the ball on and run past another.

More recently at Easter Road, he was the magician at a kids party. It was Lewis Stevenson's birthday and therefore the victim of a bamboozling but brilliant trick.

Hibs history

It is by far the only time he has tormented Hibs. They are a favourite opponent of Mackay-Steven, fitting considering he was a Hibee growing up in Thurso, as he surprisingly revealed to Si Ferry in an Open Goal interview.

“I liked watching Russell Latapy," he said. "To this day my email still contains ‘Hibees’ which is a little bit embarrassing.”

Any Hearts fan that will hold such a revelation against him will be won over by more goals and assists in the Edinburgh derby. In 16 games against Hibs he has scored eight goals.

That's where Hearts are planning to be next season. Back in the top-flight, playing big games, competing for European places, looking for cup success.

It is an aspect of the signing which shouldn’t be overlooked. Just like Craig Gordon and Stephen Kingsley, he is of “top-four" Premiership quality, as sporting director Joe Savage put it when talking about the deal.

Mackay-Steven fulfils a short and longer term requirement. Pace, excitement and genuine quality.

If he can provide just smidgen of what John Colquhoun did, the desperation of fans to get back to Tynecastle will only increase further.

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