Craig Levein’s Hearts squad has been swelled by returning loanees, including Malaury Martin and Aidan Keena who spent the first half of the season with Dunfermline Athletic.
The pair are at different stages in their career but their return has piqued interest among the Hearts support.
Keena is seen as a promising talent and it is hoped the club’s academy is about to produce a forward of note after developing excellent players in a variety of other positions. Martin on the other hand has struggled to play his way into midfield role since signing a three-and-a-half-year deal with the Gorgie side in January 2017.
Levein has admitted that the Frenchman “just doesn’t fit in with what I want to do”. The Hearts manager was quite emphatic in his appraisal of the midfielder, noting “he’s not the type of player I want my team to play with”.
It is unlikely Levein has changed his opinion, certainly after what was an underwhelming spell at East End Park for the player.
Yet, it started positively for Martin with fans effusive in their praise of his ability to control games from the centre of the pitch.
His third league outing was in a 2-0 win at Dunfermline’s rivals Falkirk, and his performance had fans purring.
One supporter on fans’ forum Pie and Bovril said: “Martin, for my money, has given us some badly needed composure on the ball in the middle of the park. He’s got the vision to spot a forward pass, or a team-mate’s run, in dangerous areas. That then benefits players like Connolly and Longridge in the wider areas.”
The player’s technical ability, vision and composure were a welcome addition to the Pars engine room, However, he was largely playing in a 4-4-2 which requires a certain type of engine, one which Martin doesn’t possess.
The physical demands in Scotland’s second tier were perhaps beyond him and he wasn’t helped by Dunfermline’s tendency, especially when struggling in the game, to take the direct route and bypass the midfield.
Martin also frustrated fans with his corner kicks, despite his set piece ability being a key factor behind his signing for Hearts.
He last started a match towards the end of November, playing just 19 minutes in the intervening period.
Thanked for his efforts, the general consensus among Dunfermline fans is that he is a player who won’t be a loss.
With a contract until 2020, Hearts will likely look to shed themselves of Martin’s wages, or at least a portion if they agree another loan deal, with the player taking to Instagram to talk of the ‘next chapter’.
Team-mate Aidan Keena, however, is on a different chapter in a different book.
Speaking last month to Dunfermline Press, he said: “I was happy to come here as I’d get a lot more chances to play football than at Hearts. This is a chance, not only to develop and get better as a player, but to show Craig Levein what I can do. Hopefully, he likes what he sees and I’ll get a chance next season.”
It seems that the 19-year-old is about to get his chance earlier than expected. He has not only been welcomed back into the first-team fold by Levein, but told that he compliments the attacking choices in the squad.
“We don’t really have anybody else like him,” Levein said. “That’s the reason I brought him back in. He is a little bit different from the other forwards. He has scored a few goals recently and looks like he is playing with a bit of confidence and swagger.”
Despite signing at the end of the transfer window in August, Keena didn’t get his first start until 30 October due to a hernia operation. Those Dunfermline fans who travelled to Inverness for the midweek encounter got a glimpose, first hand, of that confidence and swagger.
With barely ten minutes on the clock he collected a pass at the edge of the box, shaped to shoot with his left, committing former Hearts centre-back Brad McKay, before slipping back inside and caressing a pass into the bottom corner.
Better was to come before the half hour mark. Unmarked 30 yards from goal, Keena let rip, sending a ripsnorter into the top corner. A goal in which the opposition could have had two goalkeepers between the sticks and they would have struggled to keep it out.
Yet, it only finished third in the SPFL’s goal of the month voting.
Only two further goals arrived in his next ten appearances for the Pars but it didn’t dent his standing among the home support. His efforts were appreciated as fans recognised the difficulty of his role. Former Hearts boss Allan Johnston, now departed as Dunfermline manager, was unsure of Keena’s best strike partner.
At times he became isolated and as he did more responsibility fell on his young shoulders. When he played he was Dunfermline’s biggest attacking threat and had confidence in his ability, taking the ball in, turning defenders and going for goal himself, often a threat from long-range.
It is perhaps this ability, to take the ball and face up defenders, shoot from distance which Levein is keen to exploit.
When he posted his message of thanks to Dunfermline on social media, the replies were positive towards the striker with many expressing their disappointment that he would not be staying but wishing him luck in the Hearts first team.
One fan said: “Sorry to see you go. Just a shame you didn’t manage to get the goals your effort deserved. Brilliant team player with a fantastic work ethic.”
Another tweeted the player: “All the best Aidan. Shame you missed the first few games. But what a difference you have made to our team this season.”
Keena and Martin return to Hearts having played some much-needed first-team football, but for one the future at Tynecastle is shining a lot brighter than for the other.
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