Ooh, Soutt You Sir!
Transfer deadline day. Personally, it’s a time of year I had grown increasingly apathetic towards, ever since Jim White became a nauseating parody of himself on Sky’s sycophantic celebration of the scandalous sums of money being splurged on vastly overrated players.
Closer to home, however, the January transfer window had also become widely accepted as a complete non-event. Before the club entered its restoration period 18 months ago, this time of the year was a consistently trying one from a Hearts supporter’s perspective, largely due to transfer embargos and someone’s desperately misguided assessment of Paul McCallum’s footballing ability. However, for the first time in about a decade, there was a real buzz around Tynecastle, as three new signings — Don Cowie, Abiola Dauda and John Souttar — arrived before the window slammed shut on Monday night.
In the week leading up to deadline day, supporters had started to question what Robbie Neilson had in mind for the rest of the season, with many baffled by the decision to let Billy King move to Rangers on loan, especially with Jamie Walker yet to return to full fitness, Dario Zanatta still finding his feet in the first team and Danny Swanson on his way out the door to St Johnstone.
If the perceived lack of cover in the wide positions was the initial cause of this confusion, the reports that linking us with 32-year old Cowie compounded it further. With Jason Holt, Dale Carrick, Brad McKay and Kevin McHattie already on the list of young academy graduates who have departed for nothing, the concern seemed to be that King’s loan was a precursor to another inevitable release. Some had therefore raised doubts over the philosophy of developing our own players to sell on for profit, especially when young talent was making way for older players with little sell-on value.
Young players, however, will never develop properly without experienced heads to guide them and while the aforementioned youngsters all contributed admirably to our Championship success, their development was undoubtedly hampered in the preceding years without sufficient role models in the side. Cowie’s arrival, therefore, will provide a different kind of value in terms of the experience he brings, having been a regular in Cardiff’s Premier League side only two seasons ago.
If King’s move along the M8 left any lingering doubts about the club’s plans to develop and profit from younger players, the news of Jordan McGhee’s impending departure to Middlesbrough on loan would have done little to help matters, even though (as tends to happen on deadline day) the move eventually collapsed due to the late filing of paperwork.
McGhee remains at Hearts in the meantime and is almost certain to start against Hibs on Sunday, however the issue of his future is sure to re-emerge in the summer, if not before. Should McGhee eventually leave in search of regular game time, the arrival of a player with John Souttar’s potential will compensate significantly. As Robbie Neilson stated:
“I think he’s got all the attributes to be a very good player. He’s found it difficult at Dundee United because he’s been played at right-back, left-back, centre-half, centre midfield, attacking midfield and right midfield. I see him as a centre-back, I think he’s got the height for that.”
Another piece of deadline day business that will have gone some way to restoring faith in the club’s “sign-develop-sell” ethos was the surprise sale of Osman Sow to Chinese club Henan Jianye. Having been resigned to losing Sow for nothing at the end of the season, many would have struggled to believe that a £1.5m offer had been tabled for the Swedish striker. Considering he is only five months away from becoming a free agent and therefore available on a Bosman, it seems Chinese football has more money than sense, although nobody at Tynecastle will be in a hurry to provide counsel on such financial matters.
With Sow on his way out, concerns over a possible replacement were soon allayed by Dauda’s arrival on loan from Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem. Despite being a relatively unknown quantity to Scottish fans, social media scouting reports were pretty unanimous in their assessment of the Nigerian striker, with fans of his former club Red Star Belgrade highlighting the strengths he’ll bring to the side.
Whether or not he starts against Hibs remains to be seen, though Neilson certainly seems to be pondering it. Sow is also apparently available as part of an agreement with his new employers but with the outside chance of an injury scuppering his move, it is highly unlikely the Hearts management will want to risk missing out on such a large transfer fee.
Aside from the obvious benefit to the squad, the activity on transfer deadline day was also important for the timely buzz it offered supporters ahead of tomorrow’s derby, especially in the absence of recent on-pitch action. Although the old cliché dictates that form flies out the window on derby day, ours would be hard to gauge anyway. The Motherwell game was arguably the most complete performance we have seen this season and an example of the damage this team can do when every player is at his best. The Steelmen came into that encounter as the league’s form team, so having dismantled them with relative ease, the fixtures that followed against weaker sides represented an ideal opportunity to build on that performance and gather pace ahead of the derby.
Unfortunately, the goalless draw against Hamilton stalled that momentum, though had it not been for Igor Rossi’s mindless lunge on Darren Lyon, I have little doubt that we would have left New Douglas Park with all three points. In the circumstances, the point salvaged was better than nothing, but with the Inverness game falling foul of the weather last week, the Hamilton draw is the most recent performance on which any understanding of the team’s form can be based going into tomorrow.
That, of course, is not much to go on. Even after we were reduced to ten men, there were still plenty flashes of the team’s attacking threat against Hamilton and many supporters (myself included) felt we had the chances to snatch all three points. Over the course of the game, however, our general attacking fluency was stifled considerably without Gavin Reilly’s energy up front alongside Osman Sow, who was understandably less effective on his own. On that basis, it’s difficult to draw clear positives or negatives from that game, other than our resilience when down to ten men, which we have demonstrated on a few occasions now.
Hibs, by contrast, are winning regularly in the Championship, supplementing their form with a successful League Cup run in which they cast aside three Premiership teams on their march towards the final. Having witnessed Hearts in similar form last season, supporters will be aware of how winning on a weekly basis can be infectious and Robbie Neilson will almost certainly not be taking Hibs lightly. The hope, however, is that all lessons have been learned from last season’s derbies (when Neilson was often guilty of being overcautious) and that he plays to our strengths instead of focusing on theirs. If the team can replicate their performance levels from the previous round against Aberdeen, a quarter final place beckons.
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on February 7, 2016.