JOHN ROBERTSON knows a bit about scoring goals. He believes Gavin Reilly has the attributes to bulge many a net in the Scottish Premiership with Hearts.
A deal for the Queen of the South forward was completed today and Robertson, the club’s record league goalscorer, is excited about what he can offer.
Reilly’s arrival at Tynecastle will offer him the platform to perform at the highest level, something the 22-year-old craves. He is eager to step up from the Championship, where he scored 15 times in 39 games last season. Robertson has noted his attitude, work ethic and goalscoring ability and feels Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson is about to complete a very shrewd signing.
“First and foremost, Reilly can score goals. I’ve also been very impressed with his workrate and his attitude,” said Robertson, who now works in Hearts’ commercial department and coaches in their youth academy. “He’s got a tremendous attitude; he wants to learn and improve. He wants to come up a level and show that he can play at the highest level. That’s massive.
“Part of the make-up of the players Craig Levein [Hearts’ director of football] and Robbie are trying to attract involve these attributes. They want people who are the right sort. They may not always go for a player who has a name because they may feel he doesn’t have the right attributes, the right workrate or the right dynamics to join the group. They will go right into the backgrounds of players. They’re very methodical, and they will get the right sorts to come in and do very well.
“I think that’s what Reilly gives. You saw him playing for the last couple of years with Queen of the South. He’s scored a lot of goals, he works his tail off in every game and he never gives anybody a break. He can drop off into the hole and come from deep, but when you put him up front, he’s a handful. That’s the kind of attitude we’re looking for. That’s the kind of player that Craig and Robbie feel we’re maybe lacking in the group.”
Versatility is a key factor in this signing. Neilson wants a striker who can operate anywhere across his front line and drop back into an attacking midfield berth if required. Soufian El Hassnaoui, the Dutch-Moroccan forward who arrived last summer from Sparta Rotterdam, can do that but spent much of last season out injured. Reilly’s adaptability has certainly been noted. It may even be one of the reasons Neilson feels he is a better option than James Keatings, who was allowed to leave Hearts and join Hibs for free.
“Robbie said last year that his preferred starting formation was 4-4-2, but, due to injuries, he had to change it to a 4-2-3-1. That worked superbly well,” said Robertson. “El Hassnaoui can drop off and play in that role [in behind the striker] and Reilly can do the same. I think it’s great to have that. Robbie could easily start off with a 4-4-2 formation and, if required, change it to a 4-2-3-1 very quickly. Or vice-versa.
“Everybody thinks that the No.10 role should be a midfield player who can create and add a few goals. A clever striker can drop in there and play naturally. You can say [to a centre-forward]: ‘You go and play up top through the middle and I’ll play in here. As soon as we’ve got the ball, I’ll come and join you again.’ If it’s worked properly, the deeper-lying striker can go and help the midfield to defend but also be in an area to pick up the ball and attack quickly when we have it.
“I think Reilly and El Hassnaoui can both play that role very easily. They can both fit into the system flawlessly and move from one position to the other with only one command.”
If Hearts’ new signings integrate quickly, the prospect of European football increases next season. Polish defender Blazej Augustyn arrived last week, Reilly is due to follow, and talks are ongoing regarding the Spanish striker Juanma. Privately, there is an ambition within Tynecastle to challenge for a high Premiership finish and a place in next year’s Europa League qualifying rounds.
“Every Hearts player and supporter would love that to be the case. I think you have to respect the rest of the league,” explained Robertson. “Hearts dropped out for a year and you can take Dundee as the perfect example. They came up last year under Paul Hartley and made the top six. Can Hearts do that? Yes, I think they can. That’s not being arrogant or disrespectful because I know how tough that league is. Top six is certainly achievable. I’m not lying – everybody at Hearts would love to be in the European draw this time next year. There is a time and a place for that. I don’t think Robbie will say they’re going for Europe. However, I’m sure, deep down, Robbie, Craig and Stevie Crawford will want to be competing for a European place and in the latter stages of the cups.
“I think that’s where they believe the club deserves to be, but where you deserve to be and where you are is down to the work ethic and the quality you have in the group. I’m sure, come the start of the season, we’ll have the quality and attitude to make sure we are competing at the right end of the table.”
• FANS can sign up for group personal fitness training with John Robertson using Power Plates at fitness studio EH1. For a free one-to-one trial, call 0131 629 6047.