Heart of Midlothian
Summary of last season – This is a difficult thing to sum up. Last season was as much to do with off-the-field issues than what happened on the pitch. Hearts started the campaign in administration and with a points deduction that effectively relegated them immediately. That didn’t stop them putting in some great performances during the season and Gary Locke’s young side were battling right until the end. The club won a lot of plaudits for how they went about their business and how they kept on fighting but ultimately they were relegated from the Premiership. Supporters rallied around the side and gave them unwavering support throughout the season whilst trying their hardest to keep the club alive. There were a number of bids for Hearts with a number of consortiums involved in trying to take control of the club, and in May of this year a group led by businesswoman Ann Budge were successful. Hearts finally exited administration in June ending a period of uncertainty and heralding a new era for the club and a fresh start. Manager Gary Locke departed the club and he was replaced by coaches Robbie Neilson, Stevie Crawford and Craig Levein who became Director of Football.
Players in – Morgaro Gomis (Midfielder, Dundee United), Prince Buaben (Midfielder, Carlisle United), Soufian El Hassnaoui (Striker, Sparta Rotterdam), Alim Ozturk (Defender, Trabzonspor), Neil Alexander (Goalkeeper/Coach Crystal Palace), Scott Gallacher (Rangers), Osman Sow (Striker, Crystal Palace), James Keatings (Striker, Hamilton Academical), Liam Henderson (Defender, Hutchison Vale), Alistair Roy (Striker, Stirling Albion).
Players out – Alan Combe (Hibernian), Ryan Stevenson (Partick Thistle), Jamie Hamill (Kilmarnock), Jamie MacDonald (Falkirk), Mark Ridgers (St Mirren), Dylan McGowan (Adelaide United), Callum Tapping (Brechin City), Jack Simpson (Hamilton Academical), Paul McCallum (End of Loan)
What they still need – Hearts have made most of their signings by now and it seems as though Robbie Neilson is pretty satisfied with the squad he has. Of course any team can always do with strengthening but at the moment it looks like Hearts are done with their transfer business. They are still a little bit light at the back and if they were to get any injuries or suspensions then the squad would feel very stretched so some cover is needed. Hearts have completed their business early and that should help them build a team that can challenge for promotion this year.
Key player(s) – There is a distinct lack of experience in this Hearts side but with the problems last season even the young players in the team have gone through a hell of a lot and will be more mature as a result. Captain Danny Wilson is still only 22 but it seems like he has been around for much longer. He was someone last season who carried Hearts through some difficult periods and more importantly stuck with them when he possibly could have moved elsewhere. This will be a very important season for Wilson as he needs to show just how important he is for the club. Another key player is a new addition to the side and has the massive task of filling the boots of last season’s Player of the Year. Neil Alexander has just joined the team and is here to replace Jamie MacDonald. Replacing a player like MacDonald will be very difficult but Alexander has the talent and experience to do that. He will be a vital element to this Hearts team this season. Both Wilson and Alexander might not be the ‘best’ players in this Hearts team but both will be key to the squad and the club going forward.
Opinion on Hearts – With off-the-field issues now pretty much resolved it is back to the football and the fans must be delighted with that. The core of last season’s squad has been dismantled and they are rebuilding but in Craig Levein they have someone who has the experience and knowledge to do that. He has already made some key signings and he will ensure that coach Robbie Neilson is supported all the way. Hearts now finally seem to be back on the right track and this is a great opportunity to get the club back where it belongs. The lack of experience in this side might mean a few slip ups this year and there will be some big challenges during the season but Hearts will do well and will be challenging for the title.
Prediction for this season – 2nd
Summary of last season – You probably need much more than a paragraph to try to sum up what happened with Hibs last season. The club went through manager changes, player changes and horrible runs of results that ultimately culminated in them being relegated. Way back in July 2013 the team started their campaign with a European tie against Malmo. They lost the away leg 2-0 but it was the 7-0 defeat at home that probably signalled the end for then manager Pat Fenlon. Despite hanging on for another 3 months in November Fenlon was dismissed after a poor run of results and it fell to Terry Butcher to take over from him. Butcher was unanimously welcomed into the club with fans optimistic about the future. Despite a decent start under the new manager the team went on a horrific run of form and found themselves in a relegation playoff against Hamilton. Even though they won the first leg Hibs transpired to lose the second and were relegated via a penalty shootout. That was not the end of the turmoil and a few weeks later Terry Butcher was relieved if his position. Former Celtic player Alan Stubbs has now been given the role of Hibernian manager.
Players in – Alan Combe (Goalkeeper/Coach Hearts), Scott Allan, (Midfielder, West Bromwich Albion), Farid El Alagui (Striker, Brentford), David Gray (Defender, Burton Albion)
Players out – James Collins (Shrewsbury Town, undisclosed), Kevin Thomson (Dundee), James McPake (Dundee), Paul Cairney (Kilmarnock), Ross Caldwell (St Mirren), Ryan McGivern (Port Vale), Alan Maybury (Falkirk), Tom Taiwo (Falkirk), Bradley Donaldson (Livingston), Ryan Baptie (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Jay Doyle (East Stirlingshire), David Gold (Berwick Rangers), Euan Bauld (Berwick Rangers), Ben Williams (Free), Sean Murdoch (Free), Paul Grant (Free), Dean Horribine (Free), Daniel Boateng (End of Loan), Danny Haynes (End of Loan), Duncan Watmore (End of Loan)
What they still need – With the squad being completely ripped apart and a new management team in place there is still a good amount of work to be done on this Hibs squad. It is difficult to pinpoint one area because Hibs could do with strengthening various positions around the park. A first choice goalkeeper is an absolute necessity and should be their number one priority (although it looks like a signing is imminent). What is more important for Hibs is how they recruit new signings. They need to get the right players for the right positions as their track record over the past couple of seasons is one of the reasons they are in the position they are. A change in signing policy is almost more important than the signings themselves right now.
Key player(s) – Hibs now need to take stock and build for the future. They need their young players to step up and represent the club going forward. The standout prospect in the Hibernian side must be young Sam Stanton. A technically gifted midfielder Stanton was one of the few highlights from last year as he made his breakthrough into the Hibs side. With manager Alan Stubbs trying to get the team to play more attacking football this will suit Stanton and his own style so expect him to make a big impact this year. Another player that will hopefully flourish as a player under Stubbs is one that has lost his way over the past few years. Scott Allan arrives at the club having endured a pretty rough spell in England. There is absolutely no doubting his ability but since leaving Dundee United early in his career there have been concerns about his attitude and commitment to the game. If Stubbs can get Allan sorted psychologically then he could be one of the best signings in Scotland this year.
Opinion on Hibs – Much like their rivals Hearts, Hibs find themselves in a position of rebuilding and restructuring. They are in a different situation to Hearts but the sentiment is the same, they must get things right for the future. It does look like they are beginning to get it right and it looks like they are now planning properly for the long-term after a number of seasons that were overshadowed by poor decision making, poor signings and poor management. They have a job to do this season but for most fans the current situation is bigger than just this year and as long as the supporters can see long-term planning and change for the better then they might be okay if they don’t quite achieve automatic promotion this coming campaign.
Prediction for this season – 3rd