Strongest Hearts squad for years is about to get even stronger

Hearts intend to continue strengthening their squad throughout this year despite Robbie Neilson admitting that the current group is the strongest he has managed at Tynecastle Park.

The Edinburgh club invested heavily to increase the size of their first-team pool with 12 new recruits since last summer. They want to maintain ongoing improvement and growth over the coming months as they challenge for European qualification again.

Key players like Lawrence Shankland, Kye Rowles, Alex Cochrane and Robert Snodgrass arrived last year. Earlier this month, Hearts signed defender James Hill on loan from Bournemouth and striker Garang Kuol on loan from Newcastle United, plus Yutaro Oda in a permanent deal from Vissel Kobe.

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They covet a deal for Sheffield Wednesday’s Callum Paterson but a deal has yet to be agreed. Neilson told the Evening News that the squad is now stronger than at any other time during his two spells as manager. “We had a strong squad when I was here previously but probably, yes. To be honest, it should be,” he said. “Every year we should be getting stronger. We should come out of this transfer window stronger and I think we will because we've brought in Kuol, Oda and Hill.

“Hopefully there will be another one and that will improve the team because we should be better every year. There is one we are trying to get but it's been quiet at the moment. We just need to keep looking and try to get something done.”

Sunday’s 3-0 Scottish Cup victory over Hibs at Easter Road underlined Hearts’ strength in depth. An experienced substitutes’ bench did not even include defender Lewis Neilson, who watched from the stand.

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“You see on Sunday with the subs that came on,” explained Neilson. “Stephen Kingsley is an international player, as is Natty Atkinson. Stephen Humphrys, Jorge Grant and Alan Forrest are top players. We are sitting with Garang Kuol – another international – and Yutaro Oda on the bench along with Orestis Kiomourtzoglou. If we have an issue or need to make a change, we aren't bringing the level down. We’re actually bringing it up.”

Hearts players celebrate after beating Hibs 3-0 at Easter Road.