Kyle Lafferty’s transfer to Rangers, if completed, would rob Hearts of a 19-goal striker and a darling of the Tynecastle support. Replacing him isn’t a job many players would fancy. Unless you are Aidan Keena.
The 19-year-old Irishman lacks nothing in confidence and is desperate to fill any void Lafferty might leave. Keena’s impressive goal for Hearts Colts against Ross County on Tuesday was merely the latest evidence of his scoring prowess.
He hit eight in 16 games on loan at Queen’s Park last season and claimed a pre-season strike for Hearts at Arbroath. Keena appears to possess that instinctive goalscoring knack which so many coaches tell you cannot be taught. Getting opportunities to display it at the highest level is proving difficult and requiring patience.
Lafferty, Uchue Ikpeazu, Steven MacLean and Steven Naismith are his competition, so he deserves some sympathy. It is best not to remind the youngster that the giant Czech striker David Vanecek is also Edinburgh-bound on a pre-contract agreement.
Lafferty endeared himself to Hearts fans as the club’s most prolific forward in 25 years with that 19-goal tally. Keena watches him and others every day in training to perfect his trade in the hope that a promotion is just round the corner. He feels ready and capable of stepping up.
“Lafferty is just a pure goalscorer and that’s what I’m trying to be myself,” he said. “I can learn from his positioning, when he shoots and when he passes. It’s good to be able to see that.
“In every game I get a goal, then it’s harder to be ignored from the first-team perspective. The more goals I get, the more of a chance I have. I haven’t been in the team as much so far this season but I can’t really complain because the forwards they have are scoring and playing well.
“All I can do is keep working hard and learn little bits from each of them. Steven MacLean is very good that way. He stops and has a word with you if you’re struggling with an aspect of your game. I’m just enjoying being in about these guys.
“I watch the little positions they pick up and certain patterns of play. They can be making runs that I wouldn’t have made, or even not making runs that I would’ve made.
“MacLean is very good at little one-twos and neat touches around the box. It’s good to learn from that and get better. I watch him doing it and then I do it with him.
“I definitely believe in myself. At any level I’ve played at, I’ve been able for it. I don’t see why I couldn’t come in and do a job.”
He did quite the job on County in Tuesday night’s Irn-Bru Cup tie at Tynecastle. Hearts Colts lost the game 2-1 but the undoubted highlight was Keena’s goal. Twelve passes involving six players before a rasping finish into the bottom corner brought a roar of approval from the few hundred fans who witnessed it.
The move initially started when Keena collected goalkeeper Colin Doyle’s kick-out. The ball was worked through Anthony McDonald, Cammy Logan, Chris Hamilton, Harry Cochrane and Ryan Edwards without an opponent touching it. When Keena collected possession again, he advanced to play a perfect one-two with Cochrane and dispatch an unstoppable finish low into the County net from 16 yards.
“It was a good move. I think quite a lot of boys in the team got a touch of the ball before it hit the net, so that’s definitely a positive. Our coach, Andy Kirk, commented on it after the game. He said that’s what we’re capable of. We were unlucky not to get another one or we would’ve been right in the tie with a chance.
“I thought my loan spell at Queen’s Park definitely helped because I was playing against players similar to what I was up against the other night. I thought we were the better team for long periods of the game but lacked a little bit. I don’t know if it was experience, we maybe just weren’t as clinical when we got our chances.
“There were definitely a few opportunities we could have scored. I had one myself.”
Not happy merely to score, but berating himself for not getting more. It is another trait of a forward with the potential to go places in the game. Whether he goes on loan to get game time in the interim remains to be seen. He is not against the idea.
“If a loan move did come about, it would be something I’d think about,” explained Keena. He is somewhat torn between thoughts of another loan to a lower-division club and staying at Riccarton to learn from Hearts’ collection of attacking experts.
“I felt I did benefit from my loan last year. If I hang about, I wouldn’t mind even just training with the strikers here and getting to learn from them. I want to learn the style of play the gaffer wants.
“If I’m not playing by January, I could maybe go out on loan then if I’m not getting any first-team chances. I wouldn’t say I’m happy to take a back seat and just learn from the senior guys for now, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“If I did hang around until January, I’d hope to play myself into a situation where I’m even getting off the bench. If the strikers are still playing well and scoring then that’s that. If there’s an injury or anything, I’m hoping I’ll be the one he [Levein] will call on. I hope I would be next in line.”
It seems inevitable that, sooner or later, Hearts fans will be marvelling at Aidan Keena’s goalscoring feats on a far more regular basis.