It is true that out of the two windows, the January one is the quieter of the two but it does serve a purpose for some teams in resolving an issue or two. One such issue does appear to be in need of addressing by Hearts as the recent Edinburgh derby highlighted. Indeed, the fixtures played last month have also shown this as well. The Tynecastle side need a new recruit or two lest the evil curse that is battle-fatigue creep in and undermine all the good work that has taken place so far this season.
However, tiredness is also another factor and it has been noticeable that the razor sharp fluidity shown prior to the Celtic Scottish Cup tie appears to have lost a bit of its edge. Not by much, but enough to suggest a brand new face or two to freshen up the squad might be in order to gee it up again.
Not that this situation has reached crisis point yet – far from it – but the early signs are beginning to show that if budget allows it, new blood can nip this issue in the bud.
While Hearts last month had been the better team in their games, they were perhaps not as dominant and over-powering as they were earlier in the campaign. The 4-1 victory against Queen of the South should fool nobody as the Dumfries side were very much in the game until Hearts managed to break clear and rack up a somewhat flattering scoreline. The second half in the 2-0 win over Alloa was pedestrian at times while the respective wins over Cowdenbeath and Livingston were not exactly matched with performances that one could be gushing in praise of.
The 1-1 draw in the Edinburgh derby showed up that maybe some members of the team could do with a rest. Hibs took advantage of a very sluggish opening from Hearts to take a deserved lead with a well-worked goal from Jason Cummings. Indeed, had Hibs done here what they did in kicking Rangers when they were down last week, they could have been further ahead. That they were not was more than likely down to the scars of recent derby heartache (of which there have been many since 1983) inhibiting them to go full out for the jugular.
Hearts’ midfield trio of Mongaro Gomis, Prince Bauben and Miguel Pallardo looked sluggish from the opening whistle. The key for Hearts would be to nullify Hibs playmaker Scott Allan but the listless trio seemed content to let the Easter Road man have free reign of the park. At the back, the centre-half pairing of Danny Wilson and Alim Ozturk were playing as if they’d met each for the first time with the latter especially conveying the impression he was wearing roller-skates instead of regulation boots. Not to mention the apparent communication issue between the duo and goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
This has been happening with some regularity this season and it is somewhat fortunate that no opposing striker has cashed in on it. Many has been the time when a ball over the top is seemingly the goalkeeper’s only for Wilson or Ozturk to get their oar in before Alexander can claim it. Does Alexander call for the ball? If not, why not? If he does, why do his centre-halves ignore him?
Up front, unlike Hibs, there seemed to a constrictive rigidity that shackled the attacking players. The movement was stagnant at times which left you wondering was this a case of the mind being willing to move but the body was not? After all, at the other end, the Leith side had players drifting in and out of various spaces and only thanks to the alertness of the two Hearts full-backs, Callum Paterson and Adam Eckersley (the two outstanding performers in maroon on derby day), that no further damage was done.
Much to the relief of the Hearts support, an equaliser came out of the blue. A superb piece of individual skill from Jamie Walker saw him cut inside and fire in a superb long-range effort from outside the box. In fairness, prior to that, it seemed that only a defensive mistake from Hibs or a piece of individual genius would get the Tynecastle side back on level terms.
The second half was much more even as Hearts did eventually up the tempo but not as much as they would have liked in order to impose themselves on the game. Allan still had free reign to do as he pleased with the home midfield trio still looking as if their boots were weighed down with lead.
At the back, Ozturk finally remembered that he was a centre half and made a couple of timely interceptions that could have spelled misfortune for Hearts had he not done so. Wilson though still gave the impression of a burnt-out locum who had just done a 72-hour shift at the hospital.
At the other end of the park, Walker and Sam Nicholson showed a bit more spark but were unable to give lone striker James Keatings the service that has he has thrived on beforehand. Indeed, one had to feel sorry for Keatings who could have been mistaken for not knowing what a football looked liked despite all the running he had put in.
Keatings is one example of how a fresh face would help the squad. Given the injuries to Osman Sow, Soufian El Hassnaoui and Dale Carrick, he has been carrying a lot on his shoulders and not surprisingly, it appears fatigue is starting to creep in. The same applies to the attacking midfielders. Billy King was rightly rested as he looked as if he was jaded of late and Walker showed signs of it in the second half.
The midfield as mentioned earlier looked listless, although it was puzzling as to why Jason Holt didn’t come on for one of the three who collectively, probably had their poorest displays in a Hearts shirt this season. It was obvious that Allan needed to be leaned on (a la Stefano Salvatori’s number on Rino Gattuso in the 1998 Scottish Cup Final) lest he have the same influential role for Hibs as he did against Rangers. Pallardo, Bauben and Gomis didn’t get near him. Is Allan that good or were energy levels not allowing them to close in on him?
If the latter was the case and also the main reason for a number of flat contributions made by others in maroon, then the squad needs two (possibly three) new faces to freshen things up. The players who underperformed against Hibs have normally been more effective this season. Maybe an injection of new blood will allow certain squad members to be rested in order to re-charge the batteries and come back showing their old selves to the fans.
While the situation is at the level of ‘minor concern’ and a mile away from ‘blind panic’, it does need a wee tweak to ensure that everything is ship-shape and can the club can continue to move on in the right direction. However, it must not be allowed to get a stage that is deemed ‘serious’.
With promotion the final destination that has been earmarked by Hearts, it won’t be reached should the Tynecastle train run out of steam.