Gary Locke believes Hearts need around five new players this summer and he already has targets in mind if given the authority to make signings.
The manager’s future remains uncertain with his contract due to expire as Ann Budge prepares to take control at Tynecastle. However, he already has plans for next season in the hope that he stays on.
Locke originally wanted seven or eight new signings but revealed today that the rapid progress of youngsters like Sam Nicholson and Billy King has forced him into a rethink. Amongst his targets are a left-back to compete with Kevin McHattie and an experienced striker, with Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd one of several being monitored.
Hearts must exit administration before they can register new players and that is unlikely to happen until June at the earliest. Locke insisted he hopes to spring into action as soon as the club is stabilised. He explained that the development of young players who only recently emerged from the Riccarton academy has been an exceptional bonus for the Edinburgh club. Consequently, any summer recruitment drive will be less intense than expected.
“If you went back three or four months, you’d probably say we needed a good seven or eight players,” said Locke. “Now, given how well the boys have done and how well we’ve been playing, you’re looking at it and you think we maybe only need four or five. We’ll see what happens off the pitch but we certainly have players in mind and we’ll be ready to go if things go our way off the pitch. I think we need a bit of experience in the team.
“The young players’ progress has definitely made me rethink things. You look at the way Callum Paterson has been playing at right-back, for example. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by one or two of them.
“We’ve had a paper-thin squad since the start of the season. We’ve only really had 15 or 16 outfield players. With one or two of the younger lads doing well and progressing, it’s given the squad a bit more strength in depth.
“When you have a bit of competition for places, it makes a massive difference. When I played, you had at least one player competing for your place. We haven’t had that for the majority of the season. Lately, boys like Sam Nicholson and Billy King have come into the team and done well. They’ve put pressure on Jamie Walker and David Smith. They know now that, if they don’t play well, they won’t be in the team.
“We’ve got to try and get that right throughout the team. If we get it, I think you will see a difference again. There are one or two players who probably realise it doesn’t really matter how they play, they’re still going to play.
“Kevin McHattie doesn’t have any competition for his place at the minute so it’s important we try to strengthen in these areas so we have a couple of options in every position.”
Meanwhile, Hearts administrators BDO are pushing to complete a sale and purchase agreement for the club after receiving the go-ahead from creditors in Lithuania. A 20-day cooling-off period for Ukio Bankas Investment Group (UBIG) creditors to object to the release of their 50 per cent stake in the club has passed without objections.
That means UBIG’s stake and the 29.9 per cent shareholding held by Ukio Bankas can now be grouped together and transferred to Ann Budge’s BIDCO 1874 holding company via BDO’s lawyers. Once the sale and purchase agreement is signed, Hearts can begin exiting administration.