Hearts boss: Cole Stockton must improve – but so must our service

Cole Stockton swapped England's National League for Scotland's top flight
Cole Stockton swapped England's National League for Scotland's top flight
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Hearts manager Craig Levein wants striker Cole Stockton to contribute more over the winter period but admitted the Englishman needs better service.

Levein stated Stockton must improve his strength and hold-up play if he wants to feature more regularly for the Edinburgh club.

The 23-year-old arrived on a two-year contract from Tranmere Rovers in July and has yet to score after 14 appearances for Hearts. Levein conceded that is partly down to insufficient supply from midfielders and wingers, which the manager plans to address during January.

Levein told the Evening News that Stockton is improving since swapping England’s National League for the Scottish Premiership, however he feels there is still more to come.

“You have to bear in mind Cole has come from a much lower division and he’s now in a top league. Maybe the Scottish Premiership isn’t the best league in Europe but it’s still the top league in this country and he’s got to step up to the plate,” said Levein.

“His time on the field has been limited up until the last month or so. I see signs of improvement. He still needs to be stronger and he needs to hold that ball up. Just now, he’s controlling it six times out of ten but he needs to get that up to seven or eight out of ten. That’s an area he really needs to improve on.

“His finishing is actually quite good. We haven’t managed to provide him with the best supply. He had a goal disallowed from Connor Randall’s cross against Dundee on Tuesday night. That’s the stuff he likes, balls like that into the box. We haven’t managed to do that for him yet. I’m hoping if we manage to get the balance right, especially down the left side, we can help him more.”

Stockton has started two of Hearts’ past three matches but is expected to find himself on the substitutes’ bench on Sunday when Celtic visit Tynecastle Park.

Levein believes his team can record a result after beating Motherwell and Dundee but is wary that the Glasgow club have now gone 69 domestic matches without defeat.

“It’s natural to feel more confident after two victories,” he said. “Celtic are the best team in the league by a country mile. Recent weeks have shown that, if they’re not 100 per cent on their game, then you’ve got a chance.

“That’s the approach we’ll be taking. We just need to play the best we can. If Celtic underperform, then we’ll have a chance of winning the game.”