Crucial Winter Period for Hearts

Hearts Hibs rivalry

With just eight games gone in the new Scottish Premiership season, it’s already looking like a battle for second place. While some were expecting the classic Celtic – Rangers clashes of old, it’s clear that the Gers aren’t quite up to that standard just yet and that the Bhoys seem destined for yet another domestic league title.

But there’s everything to play for in Edinburgh where Heart of Midlothian FC currently sit in third place, just one point behind second placed Aberdeen. Robbie Neilson’s men have won four and drawn two of their opening eight matches and even if the title might be out of reach, there is still plenty to play for.

Slow start

It would have been particularly disappointing for Neilson to see his side eliminated after starting as Europa League favourites against Birkirkara F.C. The Maltese club could only finish third in their own Premier League last season but after an uneventful 0-0 draw, the teams returned to Edinburgh with Hearts succumbing to a shock 1-2 defeat.

At least, as the old cliché goes, the club could now concentrate on domestic issues but they started badly too as a loss to Celtic on the opening day of the Premiership season was followed by another reverse – 3-2 in the Scottish Cup at the hands of St Johnstone.

Since then, the club has consolidated in the league at least with a 5-1 hammering of Inverness proving to be the springboard that would launch a run of three straight wins. Things have calmed down since that run but how are the club looking as they head into the crucial period leading up to Christmas?

Key men

There is a very cosmopolitan feel to this current Hearts squad with a number of overseas players lining up alongside their experienced Scottish counterparts. Among that list, are two United States born players who will be relied upon at opposite ends of the pitch.

The most interesting of these is 24 year old Bjorn Johnsen who arrived at Tynecastle after a particularly prolific spell in Bulgaria with Litex Lovech. Johnsen has yet to score in six appearances but has been used sparingly and did record an assist after coming off the bench during that 5-1 defeat of Inverness.

Back in the heart of defensive midfield, Perry Kitchen has made four appearances for the US National team and Neilson has shown faith in the former DC United man by making him club captain. It’s still very early days in terms of his Hearts career but Kitchen has proved solid at the back and if the club are to make any challenge to Celtic’s dominance, he will have a pivotal role to play for the remainder of 2016/17.

But it’s up front where Hearts have been lacking so far this season and despite recording that 5-1 win and notching up four league victories so for this campaign, their front men have struggled. Forwards Johnsen, Connor Sammon, Robbie Muirhead and Tony Watt, have just one goal between them after eight matches and that clearly needs to improve.

Vital fixtures

While it may not be a stretch to say that Celtic are way ahead of the teams in the Premiership, Hearts need to keep beating the sides around them in order to stay in the European places. Between now and Christmas, they play Rangers twice and tackle St Johnstone in games that could ultimately decide second place.

There will be lots to enjoy at Tynecastle between now and the end of the year but can the Jambos become more consistent as they look to chase Celtic all the way?

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