The Class of ’22: Report Cards

by Jun 14, 2022

Having addressed Robbie Neilson in the last piece, it’s time to dive into the players’ end of season report cards.

Grades follow an A-F format, with anything below a D considered a fail, and are based on a combination of their performances and general influence. These were judged according to the expectations of each player individually, rather than how they compared to their teammates. So if you’re wondering why one player has been marked lower than another, that’s the reason.

Finally, these are subjective assessments and nothing to get upset or wound up about. There’s no right or wrong answer. However, you’re more than welcome to use the comments to disagree with me and offer your own views.


Goalkeepers

Craig Gordon: Top of the class by some distance. It will come as no surprise to any Hearts fan that Gordon’s “total expected goals conceded” (xCG) for this Premiership season (48) was higher than the number of actual goals conceded (40), a difference exceeded only by St Mirren’s Jak Alnwick. It also won’t take Hearts fans too long to think of the draws and wins that Gordon preserved with his heroics. In fact, a compilation of his best saves from this season alone would make most keepers’ career highlights look pathetic. Even with his 40th birthday around the corner, there is no sign of Scotland’s number one slowing down. A generational talent and a privilege to watch every week. A*

Ross Stewart: Must be the only player to have been signed on the basis of his “changing room patter” because it’s the only attribute that’s ever mentioned. As far as his actual goalkeeping goes, he faced seven shots in the two league games he started all season, picked four of them out his net and we lost on both occasions. Considering our first choice keeper is knocking on 40, we either need to fast-track Harry Stone or start looking to upgrade our backup. E


Defenders

Michael Smith: His usual dependable self for the first half of the season, even while adjusting to a more physically demanding right wing back role, until a persistent back problem ruled him out from early February until mid-May. Returned for the final two league games but looked noticeably rusty. B-

Stephen Kingsley: No outfield player played more minutes than this man and I’m struggling to think of a single game where his performance was lower than 7/10. In fact, by Kingsley’s standards, seven would be considered a bad game. Oozed such class at both left back and centre back that his continued wait for a Scotland call-up should be added to the list of grounds for Steve Clarke’s dismissal. Also scorer of the greatest goal I’ve seen in the flesh. Tying him down for another three years was arguably the best bit of business the club did this season. A*

John Souttar: His decision to sign a pre-contract with Rangers obviously gets an F, but it’s hard to fault Souttar’s performances on the pitch, even after his move was made public knowledge. Remained professional and committed even in the face of some initial crowd dissent which eventually died down. There was the customary injury layoff, but his absence wasn’t felt nearly as keenly as Craig Halkett’s was. A monstrous performance in the cup final merited more than the runners-up medal he walked away with. A-

Nathaniel Atkinson: Signed in the January window and was thrown in quicker than he perhaps would have been if Smith was fit. A threat going forward but defensively suspect at times. Still young though and seems like the type who will learn and grow from his mistakes. B

Taylor Moore: Never first choice and often used to plug gaps in the defence whenever injuries struck. A couple of horror performances aside, he was generally reliable when called upon but not one many will pine for now that he’s returned to his parent club. C+

Alex Cochrane: In what was his first full season of senior first team football, the young loanee from Brighton rarely looked out of place, performing with the maturity and composure of a defender 10 years his senior. Not quite as effective in an attacking sense when deployed as a wing back but it’s an area that could be developed if he was to return. B+

Craig Halkett: Had the club announced his departure in the summer, the comments would have seen a record-breaking number of shrugging Partridge gifs. Similarly, if you had suggested he would end the season as Hearts’ most influential outfield player, you would have been sectioned. And yet that is exactly what Craig Halkett was. The key Jenga piece in the middle of the back three, it was no coincidence that Hearts won just two and lost six of the 11 games he missed. The player we all thought we were getting back in 2019 has finally arrived. A*

Toby Sibbick: Arrived in January to a positive reception and performed well in his first couple of appearances. Form dipped as the season wore on, perhaps due to his lack of match practice before signing. Prone to occasional brain farts, the most high profile of which let Hibs back into the cup semi-final. Supporters possibly got a little carried away by basing their expectations on the two appearances he made on loan under Daniel Stendel back in 2020. A full pre-season should do him good. C+

Midfielders

Peter Haring: Despite starting the season as nominal second fiddle to Beni Baningime and Cammy Devlin, the Austrian still racked up over 40 competitive appearances and featured in every game from late November onwards. Established himself as a key player when the other two succumbed to injury and looked back to his 2018/19 best for most of that. A

Beni Baningime: A surprise package, having arrived with very little first team experience on his CV. Outstanding on his debut against Celtic and quickly established himself as a key member of the side with his composure on the ball and combative nature off it. Injury problems limited his involvement after November, otherwise would’ve probably earned top marks. B+

Aaron McEneff: Restricted to a squad role for the vast majority of the season and didn’t get the same opportunities some of his underperforming colleagues did. Almost single-handedly hauled us into the Scottish Cup semi-final with a particularly memorable cameo off the bench against St Mirren in the quarter-final. However, did little else of note on the rare occasions he featured. C

Cammy Devlin: If there’s one type of player Hearts fans love, it’s one who covers every blade of grass and loves a tackle. If there’s another type of player Hearts fans love, it’s a shithouse. Devlin is both. Quickly established himself as a fan favourite with his relentless energy, tenacity and ability to wind up opponents. The prolonged wait for his first and only goal (which eventually came in late February) suggests he could have contributed more in an attacking sense. A-

Andy Halliday: If he wasn’t a footballer, he’d be one of those seat fillers at the Oscars. He’ll never be the star man, but he demonstrated on more than a few occasions the value in having a player of his versatility in the squad, reliably slotting in when injuries were stretching resources. The blank Scrabble tile, if you will. Took his rightful place in derby folklore by single-handedly silencing an entire Roseburn stand of Hibs fans after they spent most of the first half singing about him. B+

Attackers

Jamie Walker: One who could maybe feel aggrieved at his lack of game time while other attacking players continually failed to impress. Made a vital contribution with his only league goal of the season away to Dundee before heading off to Bradford in January, where he has since signed permanently. C+

Ben Woodburn: Arguably the most disappointing signing of the season, given the level of excitement/hype that surrounded his arrival on loan. There’s definitely a player in there. There’s no way a player could show the technique he did for his second goal against Dundee United and not have something about him. However, glimpses of that player were so rare you could count on one hand the number of good games he had. D

Liam Boyce: Started the season looking more than capable of breaking the coveted 20-goal mark but fell disappointingly short in the end and not through a lack of opportunity. Scored some of his best goals when given the least amount of time to think about what to do. Having said that, his value to the team went beyond just goals and he was equally impressive in a deeper role after Ellis Simms arrived. A

Gary Mackay-Steven: Started the season positively but tailed off miserably, registering just one assist and no goals after December. Considering we were told his signing during the Championship season was made with one eye on the Premiership campaign, he was far too inconsistent and rarely produced the attacking threat we know he’s been capable of at this level in the past. D

Barrie McKay: The only criticisms you could level at him were that he didn’t score enough goals and that he occasionally went missing in bigger games, but those were offset significantly by the fact that he was still the team’s only consistent creative threat. His 10 league assists were the third-highest in the league and more than Gary Mackay-Steven, Ben Woodburn and Josh Ginnelly combined. Seems to have a sixth sense for passes that nobody else in the stadium knew were on in the first place. A joy to watch. A

Ellis Simms: Despite initial doubts over the quality of his finishing, ended his loan spell with a very respectable strike rate of 0.38 goals per 90, the best of any Hearts player to have played over 1000 minutes, and scored an iconic opener in the semi-final against Hibs. Also contributed significantly in the build-up to a lot of other goals, rag-dolling defenders with his pace, power and sheer presence. Paul Hanlon is still suffering from PTSD and many other opponents will be praying Hearts fail to secure his return next season. A

Armand Gnanduillet: Utilised to good effect as an impact sub in the first few matches but failed to make much of an impression whenever he started. Writing was on the wall when others were eventually selected ahead of him in Boyce’s absence. Sealed his own fate at the Tony Macaroni Arena when he shot an open goal into the side netting after rounding the keeper. Left in January to join Loic Damour at Le Mans. E

Josh Ginnelly: The kind of player who would show up for a knife fight brandishing a Flump. Pace is the one principal weapon in his armoury but he seems to have no real idea how and when to use it. Considering his crossing is consistently below par, that doesn’t leave much in his locker as far as wing play is concerned. A few good performances and five goals fell some way short of the contribution many expected him to make when he signed permanently in the summer. D

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