The Hearts issues facing Steven Naismith as he gets to work at Riccarton

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New job title and new tasks await the Edinburgh club’s technical director.

Steven Naismith’s in-tray already contains plenty Hearts first-team business needing attention. From signings to away form, there are a number of issues for the technical director to attend to. His time in charge of the Riccarton first team is very much in its infancy but, with players due to report for pre-season training on June 27, Naismith will be busy over the coming weeks.

Firstly, the outstanding matter dragging on from last season surrounds Josh Ginnelly’s future. He is out of contract and has spoken to Hearts about a new deal, but there is interest in the forward from clubs in England and abroad. He stated recently that he wanted to be closer to his family. If he is not staying in Edinburgh, there needs to be clarity for all concerned to let Hearts begin sourcing a replacement.

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A number of other signings will also be required between now and the start of season 2023/24. A goalkeeper might be necessary if Craig Gordon is not fully recovered from his double leg-break in time to start the new campaign. Ross Stewart has gone, leaving Zander Clark and the inexperienced Harry Stone as the first-team keepers.

A new right-back is a necessity following the departure of the reliable Michael Smith. Nathaniel Atkinson impressed during the final few games of the season and could potentially cement that role during pre-season. He would still need competition, though. Callum Paterson has signed a new contract with Sheffield Wednesday and is therefore no longer an option.

Hearts also need another central defender with Craig Halkett unlikely to be fully fit for the new season starting. He is working his way back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury. James Hill returned to parent club Bournemouth after his loan spell at Tynecastle finished. So, as it stands, Toby Sibbick, Kye Rowles and Lewis Neilson are the club’s only fit first-team centre-backs. A number of soft goals, especially from set-plays, were conceded by Hearts last season and that needs eradicated.

A creative attacking midfielder should also be high on Naismith’s priority list this summer. Lawrence Shankland performed that role well with Ginnelly as a central striker this season and could remain there next year. More competition for the role is needed, unless the likes of Jorge Grant or a fit-again Liam Boyce can step up to the mark.

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There is also another winger required to replace Gary Mackay-Steven. Yutaro Oda showed promise on the right, however the left side needs more pace to complement the trickery of Barrie McKay. Teenager Bobby McLuckie fits the mould but is only beginning his second year as a professional. He cannot be expected to become a first-team regular just yet.

Hearts interim manager Steven Naismith speaks with Josh Ginnelly during the last game of the season against Hibs.Hearts interim manager Steven Naismith speaks with Josh Ginnelly during the last game of the season against Hibs.
Hearts interim manager Steven Naismith speaks with Josh Ginnelly during the last game of the season against Hibs.

That said, promoting more youth academy graduates into the first team is something Naismith wants to achieve at Hearts. He knows the players in question having coached the B team last season and will look to introduce them to the senior group at an appropriate time.

The new season requires better away form if Hearts are to regain third spot from Aberdeen. Sub-standard displays on the road, combined with some cheap goals conceded, undermined their efforts this term. Naismith will know the importance of improvement in that area.