Hearts confident Josh Ginnelly will sign permanently - Andy Irving offered new contract
After extending defender Stephen Kingsley’s contract, Hearts aim to finalise deals for winger Josh Ginnelly and midfielder Andy Irving imminently.
Ginnelly has indicated a desire to stay at Tynecastle Park beyond the end of his loan from Preston North End. Manager Robbie Neilson said he does not envisage any major problems securing the popular Englishman on a permanent basis.
Irving has already been offered new terms with negotiations ongoing. Neilson admitted he wants to keep the 20-year-old for “as long as possible” given his influence this season.
Hearts gave left-back Kingsley a new 18-month contract on Thursday as they continue building for a return to the Scottish Premiership. Ginnelly and Irving are next on the agenda.
Ginnelly’s loan expires this summer concurrent with his Preston contract, rendering him a free agent at that point. He is therefore permitted to talk to any interested club as of this month.
“We've just started speaking to his agent. We will continue talking to try and get things moving,” explained Neilson. “Josh has got blistering pace which a lot of teams in Scotland can't handle.
Both parties keen
“Over the last 18 months he has struggled with niggling injuries. We believe with the sports science and medical staff here we can give him the best opportunity to play every week. We just want to get him on the pitch on a Saturday now.
“He is enjoying his time at the club and he likes it here. He likes the stadium and the training facilities. He hasn't experienced a full Tynecastle yet, which he is desperate to do.
“I think both parties are keen to get something done so I don't see there being too many issues on it.”
Irving’s Hearts contract also finishes at the end of the current campaign. “We've offered Andy a contract. He's come back, there's been a counter offer so we'll go back again,” said Neilson.
“We'd like to try and get that over the line. We've been talking for a number of weeks. Andy has been playing very well for us and we'd like to try and get him here for as long as possible.”
Hearts host Raith Rovers at Tynecastle on Saturday looking to stretch their seven-point lead at the top of the Championship and take a further step nearer automatic promotion.
The club have no intention of resting on laurels and are already putting foundations in place to help them challenge the biggest clubs in Scotland. Kingsley is the latest piece in the jigsaw.
“We're delighted to get him on board for another 18 months. We've been speaking to him for a couple of weeks about trying to extend this. It brings a bit of stability for him and for ourselves,” said Neilson.
“We brought Gary Mackay-Steven in, Michael Smith has extended his deal and we're trying to get Ginnelly over the line as well.”
Still an attraction
The controversial drop into Scotland’s second tier has not prevented Hearts getting deals done. Their status as one of Scotland's biggest clubs is still an attraction, as is the prospect of living in the country’s capital city.
“People understand the size of the club,” added Neilson. We have a phenomenal fanbase, a brilliant stadium, one of the best training centres in Britain, a great city to stay in and an ambitious owner who wants to get the club back where we believe it should be.
“We want to be challenging at the top of the league and try to get into Europe. The players we've brought in know what the club is about. It's up to us to help them get back there.”
Pivotal players are being signed up to ensure a strong core remains if Hearts do realise their ambitions and win the Championship title. More new recruits are still to come over the weeks and months ahead.
Neilson is pursuing a striker – Walsall’s Elijah Adebayo is the main target right now – and a midfielder before the January transfer window closes.
Work to be done on squad
“It's just about adding good players to the team and trying to develop the team,” said Neilson. “When you come out of every transfer window, you should be in a better position than when you went into it – whether that's extending the players here already or bringing in new recruits.
“We'd still like to bring a couple more in to strengthen it for this window, and we'll also speak to people about pre-contracts for the summer. We have a really good core group of players but I still think there is work to be done on the squad.”
The manager cannot plan with much certaintly for what Raith will offer this weekend. A well-publicised Covid 19 outbreak at Stark’s Park forced the postponement of last weekend’s game against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, but Saturday’s match is not thought to be in danger.
A number of Raith players have been isolating but some will be free to play at Tynecastle. It is not entirely clear who yet, so Hearts must prepare for all eventualities.
“All we can do is focus on the style of football Raith play. We are back at Tynecastle and look forward to the game. What team they will put out, I don’t know,” admitted Neilson.
“I don't know where they are with the returning players. We will find out an hour and a half before the game. We would expect Raith to follow the protocols and every player who comes will have tested negative.”