How did Nathaniel Atkinson perform on his Hearts debut?

Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie against Auchinleck Talbot was the first opportunity for Hearts fans to see the club’s latest signing in action as Nathaniel Atkinson was granted his debut from the starting XI.

By Craig Fowler
Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 12:03 pm

The Australian played on the right of the midfield four in Hearts’ 3-4-3 system and, by all accounts, enjoyed a thoroughly productive afternoon in his new club colours as Robbie Neilson’s men set up a fifth-round tie against Livingston with a commanding 5-0 win.

His first-half, in particular, was quite impressive as he played a significant role in Hearts dominating and keeping Auchinleck pinned back deep in their own half.

There was a bit of hesitancy, or perhaps over-confidence, in the opening ten minutes as he tried to get adjusted to the speed and ferocity which defines Scottish football. This is understandable. Other than international competition, he’s never played outside of Australia before and will only naturally take a bit of time to get fully acquainted with our rough-and-tumble style.

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Hearts' January signing Nathaniel Atkinson made his debut in the Scottish Cup win over Auchinleck Talbot. Picture: SNS

He did, however, quickly get the feel of things and was soon at the forefront of the away side’s press, winning the ball back in Auchinleck’s half on four occasions throughout the game.

His directness in attack was evident. He attempted three crosses in total, preferring instead to drive diagonally from the wing to the penalty box. When in the area he showed intelligence and unselfishness. His pass for Liam Boyce on ten minutes would’ve been an early assist if not for an erroneous flag from the assistant referee. On 35 minutes he performed a similar move, choosing to head down for Barrie McKay rather than force the issue and go for goal himself.

His only attempt on goal in 16 minutes displayed the aggression which was coming into his game. He charged into an aerial challenge, which he won, then performed a similar head-strong run into the box to get on the end of a cross and attempt a first-time, side-foot finish, which brought out a strong save from Talbot keeper Andy Leishman.

Like many of those in blue and maroon, Atkinson was also harshly penalised by the officials. In addition to the aforementioned assist being disallowed, he saw a “second-assist” (a pass before the pass) wiped away by an even worse offside call after winning back possession and giving for Andy Halliday to slip in Boyce. Furthermore, the only foul he gave away was clearly a successful attempt to win the ball with a sliding challenge.

His pièce de résistance came in the 83rd minute as he laid on Hearts’ fifth on a plate for Alex Cochrane after nutmegging Aidan Wilson and beating the Talbot left-back to the byline.

Yes, the standard of opposition must be taken into account before dishing out hefty praise, or expecting this to be Atkinson’s standard, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Regardless of Talbot’s quality, there's no doubting the ability of his Hearts team-mates and he was one of the star performers on the day.

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