Exclusive: Josh Ginnelly explains his Hearts future and why he doesn't fit into the team any more

Frustrated and eager to play more often, Josh Ginnelly remains realistic about his Hearts future. He knows he possesses the tools to contribute and admits he must “do more” to secure a regular place in the team.

This newspaper revealed two weeks ago that Hearts will listen to offers for the 25-year-old Englishman. The player himself says he is in no immediate rush to leave but feels he does not fit into manager Robbie Neilson’s formation.

A 3-4-2-1 system is frequently employed this term and the forward positions do not lend themselves to Ginnelly’s strengths. Two attacking midfielders – the so-called traditional No.10s – roaming in behind a striker does not suit an out-and-out winger who thrives using pace in wide areas.

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It is a situation Ginnelly can’t control. What he can do is adapt. Understandably, a long-term bit-part role holds little appeal in the final year of his contract at Tynecastle Park. Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he is both open and realistic about the predicament.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 21: Hearts' Josh Ginnelly and Celtic's Reo Hatete (L) and Greg Taylor (R) in action during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and Hearts at Celtic Park, on August 21, 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Ginnelly started at centre-forward in Sunday’s 2-0 Premiership defeat at Celtic Park and is reasonably adept at fulfilling that role due to his speed and eye for goal. Wide right or left remain his preferred positions. He knows chances of retaining a starting place for Thursday’s Europa League return leg against FC Zurich are slim.

“I missed part of pre-season [through injury], I’ve had a few minutes as a substitute in the first leg over in Switzerland. I’ve just got to keep working hard to get back in the team,” he says.

“I want to stay here. It’s going to be tough for me to get into the team because I don’t fit into a slot. I think I’ve got to take that upon myself, get used to the positions the manager wants. As it stands I’m here so I will be giving 100 per cent.”

The two attacking midfield roles have mainly been filled by Barrie McKay and recent signing Alan Forrest since competitive matches began last month. Ginnelly says he is willing to change and grow as a player if it earns him more minutes on the pitch.

“That’s obviously the way we play so I need to adapt my game to get into the team,” he explains. “Our width comes from our full-backs now. When we were in the Championship it was 4-2-3-1. The system we play now is different so I need to improve in the positions I can play.”

There have been conversations with Neilson, plus chats with coaches Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest. “We are working on it. It’s not just the gaffer, it’s Gordy [Forrest], Jig [Lee McCulloch], the way we train.

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“I’ve obviously got to do more than other boys to get in the starting line-up. That comes on the back of how well the boys did in those positions last season. It’s good to have [competition]. It’s pushing me and pushing them so it’s positive.”

“We have a good changing room with good staff. Everyone is pushing in the same direction. It’s not full of individuals. We want to achieve something in Europe and also have another good season in the league."

When asked outright if he sees himself staying with Hearts beyond the end of the summer transfer window, which closes at the end of this month, Ginnelly’s answer is definitive.

“Yeah, I do. I don’t know who would want to leave Hearts like that to be honest. We had a great season last year, we are in Europe now and hopefully we get past the play-off this week and see where it takes us.”

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Tynecastle is building up for a potentially historic night as Hearts strive to reach the Europa League group phase for the first time. Last Thursday’s 2-1 defeat in St Gallen leaves the tie against Zurich very much in the balance ahead of the second leg in Edinburgh.

With a sellout crowd, a tight pitch, a hostile atmosphere, and more adrenaline than an operating theatre, the bustling Gorgie ground may well prove a deciding factor against the Swiss champions.

“That’s just the nail on the head,” says Ginnelly. “We know the numbers we can get at home. Even away, I don’t think as many fans would have gone over to Switzerland if this was a different club. We appreciate that support. As you said, it’s going to be ten times as noisy at Tynecastle. That will be a shock to Zurich.”

Lawrence Shankland’s penalty put Hearts ahead in the first leg before Adrian Guerrero and Blerim Dzemaili overhauled the deficit. Zurich travel to Scotland with a slender advantage and the feeling at Riccarton is that this tie is there for the taking.

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“Obviously we were unhappy to concede the goals in the first leg but I think anyone would have taken that result over there. Now we take them back to our home ground and that will be in our favour. We believe we can get the job done,” insists Ginnelly.

“The boys who played the majority of the game can be proud of themselves. It’s not easy to go away and deal with different conditions. I thought we made a few good chances, probably our quality could have been better.

“It’s sad for the fans that we got a defeat but I think even they will take that. They know how much of an impact Tynecastle can have on teams. I would say we are all positive and we can’t wait to get Zurich at our ground.”

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