All things considered, it’s not bad. This is a club that two years ago was still playing in the Scottish Championship, while last year’s European adventure was the first since 2016. This is a fanbase that’s had to get used to underachievement in recent years, so finishing just behind an Aberdeen side that didn’t have the rigours of European football and spent a fair bit on their first-team squad themselves is hardly an embarrassment.
But then again, they had a ten-point lead on the Pittodrie side just earlier this year. Allowing such an advantage to slip from their grasp, especially with the carrot of group-stage European football for the second consecutive season dangling in front of them, is always going invoke a lot of disappointment.
The collective highs and lows of this campaign are condensed into these 11 awards...
1. Best Player - Lawrence Shankland
An easy selection this one. The striker has struck a whopping 28 times in all competitions this season and is still very much in the hunt for the cinch Premiership top goalscorer award with a game left to go. Aside from his goals, his hold-up and link play have been terrific. He’s often been one of the best players on the park even when he’s not scoring. Photo: Craig Foy - SNS Group
2. Most Improved Player - Josh Ginnelly
This is a tough one because the second and third best players this campaign without any doubt have been Alex Cochrane and Josh Ginnelly, both of whom could stake a real claim for this honour. Cochrane was a dependable option at full-back and left-sided centre-back last term, but he’s really stepped up his game after signing permanently. He’s much more of an attacking threat, where his energy in bombing forward gives a different dimension and helps get the team up the park quickly. But Cochrane’s signing last summer was celebrated, whereas there wouldn’t have been much consternation had Ginnelly been sold or allowed to leave a year early. He’s transformed since being converted into a striker with an excellent goals-to-games ratio, having been looked upon as an inconsistent and often ineffective winger. Getting him tied to a new deal should be top of Hearts’ list of priorities (behind hiring a new manager) this summer. Photo: Mark Scates - SNS Group
3. Best Team Performance - 6-1 win versus Ross County
A funny one this. Even though there was a 5-0 win over Aberdeen, two 3-0s against Hibs and a 3-0 triumph at Motherwell, Hearts didn’t play particularly well in any of those matches. They just defended stubbornly and were clinical in attack. A game where everyone excelled was Steven Naismith’s first home fixture and the 6-1 thumping of Ross County. The football was high octane, attacking and relentless. Photo: Mark Scates - SNS Group
4. Best Individual Performance - Toby Sibbick at Easter Road
There’s nothing quite like a Hearts player coming up big in a victory at Easter Road. It also concluded the season’s best redemption story with Toby Sibbick bouncing back from a case of early-season yips to have a stormer in the cup win down in Leith. He was superb in defence, repelling everything that came into the Hearts penalty box, then went on a charging run forward to complete the victory with a lovely clipped finish over David Marshall. Photo: Craig Williamson - SNS Group