Former Hearts winger Allan Preston believes Jamie Walker’s goalscoring exploits this campaign make him a contender to be the club’s player of the season.
The 21-year-old, who has scored five goals in his last six appearances including the only strike of the game in last Saturday’s victory over Livingston at Tynecastle, is the Championship’s leading goalscorer from midfield having bagged eight to his name so far.
His ability to find the net this season has certainly been a welcome addition for a player who managed just three last term as the Gorgie side plummeted towards Scotland’s second tier following a 15-point deduction for entering administration.
However, under the stewardship of Robbie Neilson this season, Walker has simply thrived when given ball to feet and has rewarded his manager with some stunning strikes, none more so than last month’s equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Hibs at Tynecastle.
“It’s great that he’s adding goals to his game,” Preston told the Evening News. “First and foremost he’s there to be a creator and goals are a bonus. But he’s doing both for Hearts at the moment and he’s very versatile as well as I’ve watched him play wide right, wide left or play off the front.
“Last year was a real learning curve for the whole squad because there were a lot of younger boys. But they know now what the manager demands of them and what the supporters expect. What you do get with wingers is inconsistency, but Jamie has been very consistent this season which is a real plus because I know from my own time as a winger, you’re either Pele or smelly! So, thankfully, Jamie more than most this year has been Pele – he’s been different class.”
That said, Walker found himself on the fringes of the Hearts first-team when the season got under way in August, Sam Nicholson and Billy King the preferred options for Neilson on the wings. But Preston believes having three players of that calibre can only stand the club in good stead going forward.
“It’s certainly kept all of them on their toes and that they’re not going to be guaranteed starters,” Preston said. “Jamie probably wasn’t in the first XI at the start of the season as much as he would have liked, but has now got himself in and I think now he must be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
“I was at the game last weekend [against Livingston] and he was excellent and is now giving you a real consistent level which is great for Robbie and everyone involved at Hearts.”
With attentions turning to thoughts of who might be crowned the club’s player of the season, Preston said: “Jamie’s certainly up there. If you’re going to get awards then this is the time to start playing well. He’s certainly a contender, though, but I think that [Adam] Eckersley has done well, [Alim] Ozturk, [Callum] Paterson has been asked to contribute in a number of positions, so there are a lot of good points there for Hearts.
“But I think that Walker definitely merits to be in the running for the player-of-the-year awards come the end of the season. He’s performed against Hibs and Rangers where both these teams have Premiership players with some of them international players as well.
“You can only play and perform against the people that are put down in front of you and at the moment he’s certainly doing that. I’m hoping that Hearts do go on and win the league and that Jamie is part of the club’s long-term future.”
Although conceding it would take a monumental collapse for anything other than Hearts securing their return to the top flight as league champions, the Jambos currently 20 points clear of city rivals Hibs and 22 ahead of Rangers, who have three games in hand, Preston is taking nothing for granted.
“Until it’s mathematically impossible then I don’t buy into that,” he said. “But the finishing line is within touching distance and it could be done within the next six or seven weeks and obviously the sooner the better for every Hearts fan concerned. If that is the case then we can all sit back and watch the play-offs unfurl which I think will be fantastic as you don’t want to be involved in them.”