Ryan Edwards aims to exploit Steven Naismith’s absence tonight by cementing himself in the attacking midfield role for Hearts against Cove Rangers. The Australian feels he performs best in that position and is expected to start there in the Betfred League Cup tie.
Naismith rejoined Hearts on loan from Norwich City earlier this month but must serve the second of a two-game ban he received at the end of last season for a challenge on the Celtic captain Scott Brown. The Scotland internationalist would be favourite to play in behind the strikers in Hearts’ 3-4-1-2 formation, but Edwards wants to take advantage of his unavailability.
Having played in a deeper midfield position with former club Partick Thistle last season, he intends to prove he is best utilised further up the field. “That was one thing that stuck out when I had talks with the manager here before signing, that he wants me to play further forward,” said Edwards.
“I think my best football with Thistle was playing further forward. Last season was a bit difficult. We had a number of injuries and I was getting moved about, which is fine. Attacking midfield is probably my preferred position and I think it brings the best out of my game.”
The 24-year-old acknowledged the fierce competition for places at Tynecastle Park after 11 summer signings by manager Craig Levein. He hopes he can learn from Naismith whilst challenging for the same position in the team.
“That’s one thing I’m really excited about because what I’ve realised coming into this dressing-room is that there is going to be a lot of competition for places,” added Edwards.
“You will have two starting elevens that have good experience and will be wanting to play on match day. I’m really looking forward to it. Bringing Naismith back is brilliant. He is an attacking midfielder who I’m sure I’ll relish playing with and learning from because he is a Premier League footballer.
“I think it will be really beneficial. It was documented last season that there wasn’t enough depth and the team wasn’t fit enough. You can see through training and in games and with the type of personality of the players that they’re trying to fix that.”
Thistle’s relegation from the Ladbrokes Premiership in May saw Edwards decide to activate a release clause to leave Firhill. He insists he is still feeling the effects of the disappointment but could not refuse a move to Hearts.
“I’m still hurting and it’s disappointing we got relegated. It’s not a nice feeling. It’s a hard decision to turn down Hearts and to play for the manager. It would have been very difficult not to come here, even if Partick stayed up. It’s such a massive opportunity to come to a club with massive ambition and to test myself at a higher level.
“I’ve always said I want to progress each year and I think this is the next step for me. I’m looking to forward to playing in front of amazing fans and for a team who wants to push on at the top of the table.”
The former Reading player explained that it took him just a few days to decide his future lay in Edinburgh after talks with the Thistle manager Alan Archibald. “There were different deadlines with the clauses in the players’ contracts at Thistle,” he said.
“The club had to notify me about wages and what they wanted to do within two weeks. Other players were seven days and a month. I had two weeks to make a decision. After a few days of talks with my agent, the club and Alan Archibald, it was decided after two or three days.
“It was probably still hasn’t sunk in. You get relegated, it hurts, you’re down and you don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of changes at the club happened and a number of players left and there were relegation clauses and things like that.
“I had a holiday booked so I left not knowing if I was going to stay or move on. I had a decision to make in the first couple of days because of the budget cuts and they wanted to sort out where the manager and players were staying or going.
“It all happened very quickly and you have to make the decision that’s best for you. I spoke to Thistle on a number of occasions and the manager was very supportive. We thought it would be the best decision for both parties at that time.”