When Hearts finished third in the SPL under Csaba Laszlo six years ago, they did so with only 40 goals, averaging just over one per game.
lready this season, with ten league games still to play, they have netted 74 times in their relentless march towards the Championship title.
If they can maintain their remarkable strike rate of 2.85 per game, they will crash through the 100-goal landmark for the fourth time in their history – and the first time since 1960 – by the time the season ends. “I think they’ve definitely got a chance of getting to 100,” said Kevin Kyle, the former Hearts striker. “It would be a great milestone for them. I don’t think many teams would have got to 100 in the First Division. Promotion will be the most important thing – which looks a foregone conclusion now – and if they can top that off with 100 goals, it would make it a tremendous season.”
Hearts are on the cusp of becoming only the third team in the last 20 years to hit 80 goals or more in Scotland’s second tier – Hibs notched 84 in 1998/99 and Falkirk got 80 four years later. By contrast, Dundee (1997/98) and St Mirren (05/06) won the title with just 52. Even Gretna, who plundered an astonishing 130 goals in their procession to the Third Division title ten years ago, could muster only 70 on their way to winning the First Division two years later.
The 2014/15 Hearts side – having struck at least four goals on nine separate occasions – is sure to be remembered as one of the most lethal in the history of Scotland’s second tier. “When they get a goal, they always look like they’re going to kick on and get a few more,” said Kyle. “They’re fearless and they play attractive football. They just want to attack, attack, attack. They don’t want to sit and accept a 2-0 or 3-0 win, they try and get as many as they can, which is good to see.”
Despite their 74-goal haul, James Keatings, with ten, is the only Hearts player to have entered double figures in the league. Jamie Walker and Osman Sow have nine, while Genero Zeefuik has hit eight already since arriving in January. Billy King, Sam Nicholson, Callum Paterson and Prince Buaben have also been regular contributors. It says much about their array of firepower that strikers like Gary Oliver, Dale Carrick and Soufian El Hassnaoui – who have been out on loan or injured – haven’t been missed.
“The goals have been coming from everywhere,” said Kyle. “Midfielders and defenders have been chipping in, so it’s been a real team effort. Normally with any team that gets promoted, there will be at least one who gets 20-odd goals, but Hearts haven’t got one particular striker banging them in – everybody’s chipping in.”
Aside from Gretna, Celtic (2003/04 and last season) and Rangers (2002/03 and in League One last season) are the only Scottish teams to have brought up a century of league goals in a season over the past two decades. The fact Hearts are even in contention for such a milestone is remarkable considering how underwhelming their scoring stats have been in recent seasons.
Indeed, prior to this term, they had only broken the 50-goal mark once in eight years. That was the 2010/11 campaign when Jim Jefferies’ side managed 53. Kyle was part of that team and was heavily relied upon before a season-ending injury in January effectively killed off hopes of a title challenge. “There wasn’t the same depth of strikers when I was there,” he recalls. “There was a lot of responsibility on myself, Stephen Elliott and Rudi Skacel to get goals, but with this team, it doesn’t really matter if someone isn’t scoring because there are always others looking to get goals.
“Because there are so many forwards at the club, the boys who are getting picked know they’ve got to keep scoring if they want to stay in the team. By the same token, with so many players scoring, there probably isn’t as much pressure on the strikers, which is allowing them to express themselves.”