The 5 Hearts players facing a crucial season in 2022/23

Which members of Robbie Neilson’s Hearts squad will definitely need to have a strong campaign next term? We look at the leading candidates.

By Craig Fowler
Sunday, 26th June 2022, 1:22 pm
Updated Sunday, 26th June 2022, 1:22 pm

Toby Sibbick

He’s only six months into a three-and-a-half-year deal so there’s plenty of time left for Sibbick to make himself a regular in the starting XI even if he doesn’t manage it this season, but it still feels like a significant season in the young career of the 23-year-old. With John Souttar out of the picture, he’ll be looking to cement a place and anything else would not only be a disappointment, but also throw into question the centre-back’s long-term future at the club and where his career trajectory is headed.

This is someone who started regularly for Barnsley as they launched a bid to make the English Premier League the campaign prior to his switch to Tynecastle. With as much respect to Hearts and the Scottish Premiership in general, to be going from that to a bench-warmer in Gorgie would represent an alarming drop-off in such a short period of time.

Peter Haring, Liam Boyce and Michael Smith are all in a contract season at Hearts. Picture: SNS

In order to avoid such a scenario he’ll need to improve his displays on the right side of the back three. He looked pretty impressive when deputising for Craig Halkett in the centre of the trio last term, but considering his strengths are in ball-playing and not the aerial dominance of his team-mate, it was surprising he appeared a lot shakier in the Souttar role.

Hearts will likely look to bring in another right-sided defender with Taylor Moore also leaving. New man Kye Rowles is a left-sided centre-back and would represent a rival if Neilson largely chooses to go with a back-four next term. There are a couple of battles for Sibbick to win before he even faces a Scottish Premiership opponent.

Michael Smith

About to turn 34 and with his long-standing back problem flaring up quite a bit last season, few would be surprised if the Northern Irish international looked upon 2022/23 as potentially his year. His respect in the dressing room would certainly suggest someone capable of going into coaching and Hearts would likely represent a perfect environment for him to make that first step, considering the respect he has at the club.

But footballers typically want to keep playing as long as physically possible and, if he is driven by such motivation, Smith will be seeking to win back the starting right-back role from Nathaniel Atkinson and prove to his manager he’s worthy of at least another 12 months when his current deal expires next summer.

Josh Ginnelly

The winger was one of the more exciting signings of last summer as fans expected his performances in the Championship season – including a game-changing appearance in the Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic – to translate over to the top flight. He did have some eye-catching displays, notably vicitimising St Johnstone and Dundee United on more than one occasion, but was too inconsistent overall.

No attacking midfielder outside of Barrie McKay was able to nail down a regular spot in the team last season, which is part of the reason why Neilson is looking to bring in at least two players who can play the position along with another centre forward, which would then mean Liam Boyce could end up taking a position in one of the deeper roles. With Gary Mackay-Steven and Aaron McEneff still on the books it’s not going to get any easier for Ginnelly.

Having failed to make a mark with Preston North End prior to his move to Hearts, it’s difficult to see him landing somewhere above League One level next term if he spends most of his time as an observer in Edinburgh this coming campaign.

Peter Haring

Hearts, typically for a football club, are being vague about the details of the one-year option in the contract extension Haring signed. Does the club hold it? Does the player? Is it appearance based? But even if Haring holds the cards as to whether he stays in a maroon shirt for another 12 months or another 24, it’s still an important season for the 29-year-old as he gets set to enter the twilight years of his career.

Last season he was eventually able to remind everyone, including the management staff, of his quality in the centre of the park and was one of the club’s best players in the latter half of the campaign. This was after being looked upon as an undoubted third choice behind Beni Baningime and Cammy Devlin earlier in the term. If Hearts recruit another No.8, and there is plenty of suggestion they will, he could find himself playing third fiddle again – a situation which could get even worse for him when Baningime returns from injury in the new year.

Liam Boyce

Might seem a strange inclusion as he’s said to be wanted by Aberdeen and Ipswich Town, rumours which prompted Neilson to give a glowing assessment of his only experienced striker the other day, but any season in which a 31-year-old is coming into the final year of their deal is got to be looked upon as crucial.

Hearts will undoubtedly bring in at least one other striker. Things worked out all right for Boyce last term when Ellis Simms joined in the January window. Though the Everton loanee was preferred to spearhead the attack, Boyce still started most matches in a deeper role. It meant his goal tally dropped off but he was still playing every week and contributing.

If, as mentioned before, the attacking-midfield corps are bolstered further and a new signing, like Jorge Grant for example, is able to make the other supporting role across from Barrie McKay their own then it might not be so easy. Whether he wants to remain at Hearts or play for a club in similar stature after next summer, he’ll have to make sure there’s no regression in his game.

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