Hearts boss explains why Steven Naismith and Ryotaro Meshino will be key figures
Adding Steven Naismith and Ryotaro Meshino to the Hearts squad would significantly strengthen attacking options for Saturday’s visit of Hamilton.
For a club sitting joint-bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership but with European aspirations, more creativity and clinical finishing is vital.
The talisman Naismith came close to returning at Celtic Park on Sunday but was not risked after two weeks recovering from a tight hamstring. However, he was named in Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad on Tuesday after national coaches were told he would be available to face Russia and Belgium next week.
Meshino, inset, the Japanese forward, is due in Edinburgh imminently to complete a season-long loan from Manchester City. His direct running and penchant for shooting should help Hearts source the goals required to climb the league table. However, it must be said that the 21-year-old will need time to adapt to Scottish football and the local culture after living in Japan all his life.
Manager Craig Levein is hopeful both players can provide useful panache, whilst also forcing others to raise their game. Two goals at Pittodrie are the only strikes Hearts have mustered from open play in three Premiership matches so far. Conor Washington scored from a penalty rebound in the 3-1 defeat by Celtic and converted in the Betfred Cup win at Motherwell the previous week. The Northern Ireland striker clearly needs some back-up, though. Naismith is the more likely to come to his aid against Hamilton, but Levein hopes Meshino’s loan deal will be done in time for him to feature as well.
“I’m sure Naisy will be back for this week, which will help. Ryotaro should be in some time this week as well, so that gives us more options,” said Levein. “Conor was good on Sunday, Uche Ikpeazu came on and made a difference in the game, I thought Sean Clare had a really good game and Jake Mulraney had moments when he did well.
“We are going to have competition for places. Maybe that in itself will be the thing that ekes more out of every single player. Come the end of this week, we are going to have a fairly strong squad with people coming back from injury and bringing Ryotaro in. That will help.”
Meshino planned to arrive in Edinburgh last night but travel plans were changed at the last minute. His visa and work permit are both understood to be in place. If he does not manage to arrive in time to face Hamilton, Levein will not lose sleep due to his confidence in existing Hearts players.
“I would be happy going into the Hamilton game with the players we’ve got. I feel we are good enough to win that match,” he said. “Sunday against Celtic was strange because it’s normally clear-cut whether we played well or not. Those two things are always at the forefront of my mind.
“If we haven’t played well, then obviously we need to do better. If we have played well, I’ll pat the players on the back. On Sunday, it was a bit of both. The frustration for me is that I believe so much in this group of players. We just need to eke a little bit more confidence and improvement out of them, then we will be off and running.”
Hearts’ lowly position and overall poor league form throughout 2019 leaves little room for manoeuvre this weekend. Beating Hamilton at home is a must, even though the campaign is still in its infancy.
“We would always want to take three points from Hamilton at home,” admitted Levein.