With Hearts having verbally agreed terms to sign the Cambridge United striker for next season, we asked Craig Fowler to provide a scouting report on the 23-year-old.
He’s well-liked by the Cambridge fans
“You gave us light when there was very little in the tunnel.”
“Gutted to see him go because on his day he is unplayable and great value for money.”
“He’s been enormous fun, and effective too.”
These were just some of the comments from Cambridge fans in reaction to today’s news. They were, almost unanimously, gutted to hear the player shall be leaving the mid-table League Two side.
Having attracted the likes of Christophe Berra, Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith to Tynecastle within the last 12 months, Hearts fans could be forgiven for worrying about the standard of quality with regards to Uche. After all, the Tynecastle club dipped into League Two last season to sign Cole Stockton - who had been on loan at Morecambe from National League Tranmere - and that deal didn’t go as planned.
At least with Uche he’s viewed as one of the more exciting players in League Two this term and his decision for leaving was an ambition to play at a higher level. It appears he would have been on his way from the club even if Hearts had not come in for him.
Also, while Stockton didn’t work out, there have been other strikers around that level who’ve been able to make their mark in Scottish football, most notably Louis Moult, who joined Motherwell from Wrexham while the Welsh side were in the Conference.
He’s big and he’s fast
Ikpeazu is tall, broad, muscular and moves with real pace and power. He can back into defenders and hold the ball up by basically creating a shield around it, and flick it around the corner before burning them for pace.
More so than anything, Hearts have lacked pace in attack this season. When David Milinkovic doesn’t play the front line doesn’t have anyone who can really stretch the opposing defence and the Gorgie side’s approach can be rather plodding. Steven MacLean is not the type of player to fix that issue but Ikpeazu, if he’s up to the task, certainly can be.
He’s got a tremendous work rate
There are downsides to his game that we’ll get to shortly, which could see some comparisons drawn with former Hearts striker Esmael Goncalves. The Portuguese frontman was clearly talented but used to drive the Tynecastle support crazy with his erratic behaviour. Ikpeazu can be similarly unpredictable, with one supporter on the Cambridge fans forum saying you didn’t know “whether a shot was going to nestle in the bottom corner or end up hitting that new electronic board”.
However, what the prospective new signing has going for him, and something which will endear him to the Hearts support, is an unrelenting work ethic. While Hearts boss Craig Levein may wish him to be more disciplined, especially if he sees him being the fulcrum of the attack, his natural tendency is to race around the final third, chasing lost causes and attempting to put defenders under pressure.
His shooting is erratic
He’s not what you would call a natural goalscorer - netting 14 goals in 42 games in all competitions this term - but he can find the back of the net with some spectacular efforts. One goal, in particular, saw him back into a defender, switch it on to his right foot and curl an unstoppable shot from the edge of the box which clipped in off the far post with the goalkeeper stranded.
Overall, though, his 34.81 accuracy is one of the lowest percentages of any striker in League Two. The good news? That’s still a better mark than Kyle Lafferty (30.38) in this season’s Scottish Premiership.
He does, however, have the capability of scoring goals with both feet, netting six each with his right and left, while his 25th headed attempts is the ninth most in the league this term.
His style is unorthodox
Ikpeazu is more chaos factor than polished professional when it comes to his style on the ball. Watching him closely, there is typically a heavy touch or two when he tries to manoeuvre around defenders. His speed and strength helps him make up for it, but it means he moves in a rather unorthodox manner.
In League Two he gets away with it, but it remains to be seen whether that will translate to the Scottish Premiership. Football up here tends to be played at 100 miles per hour and with better defenders it could be a struggle for the English hitman. Especially if he doesn’t get off to a fast start and the demanding Tynecastle crowd gets on his back before he’s had the chance to find his feet.
It wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Levein holds him back a little at the start of the season and eases him in gently. Such a scenario may depend on what happens across the rest of the summer.