When you look at the best signings by any Premiership club this season you’d have…
When Steven Naismith signed for Hearts many thought it would be one of the best signings of the season; this writer included. Whilst he hasn’t been dreadful, the former Rangers man has been wholly underwhelming.
The Tynecastle side have struggled with a lack of creativity in the final third and Naismith was the type of player Craig Levein hoped would combat that. Of course, one player can’t overhaul a whole team’s fortunes, but a player of his supposed quality could seemingly thrive at this level and help turn their season around.
That said, he’s made little impact in the games he has played. Sure, he’s only featured in seven league matches and also had a brief hamstring injury and perhaps expectations were too high, but Naismith is simply nowhere near the player he originally was. Or maybe the best is still yet to come and a bit of patience is required.
Regardless of the answer what’s completely bamboozling is that Levein seems intent on keeping Naismith after the summer. “He’s brought something to the group,” said the Hearts coach, but unfortunately that has not translated into on-field success. Naismith may be an asset to have around the club and in training, but at the moment he isn’t performing to the level the Gorgie faithful had hoped.
We delved into the numbers to look at Naismith’s performances and whether Hearts should keep him beyond the summer.
It’s no secret Hearts are struggling in the final third. Only Partick Thistle have scored fewer goals than the Tynecastle side this season. Furthermore, no other team puts fewer crosses into the box than Levein’s side. In essence, there’s a lack of service coming from the wide areas. In all honesty, there’s a lack of ideas up top in general.
Naismith was one of the players who was going to fill the Jamie Walker-shaped hole in this Hearts team. And although Walker was hardly prolific this season his absence was always going to be felt. Naismith was the creative, pacy, attacking outlet that Hearts craved, but unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case.
This point is only further emphasised by the graph above. Naismith is not the kind of attacker who gets you 25 goals a season, but he’s only managed to score once in a maroon jersey. This works out at a rate of 0.18 goals per 90 minutes. Isma Goncalves (0.39), Kyle Lafferty (0.38), David Milinkovic (0.35) and Ross Callachan (0.19) all have better scoring rates. Moreover, Naismith is just ahead of Walker (0.15).
OK, so he’s not scoring a load of goals, but what about contributions elsewhere? Another metric we can look at is key passes; a pass which leads to a shot on goal. Remarkably, in his seven league appearance for the Jambos Naismith has only managed one key pass or 0.18 per game. That’s less per 90 minutes than Joaquim Adao (0.69), Milinkvoic (0.49), Goncalves (0.26), Walker (0.23) and Callachan (0.19).
Conversely, Naismith fares slightly better when we view assists per 90 minutes. The 31-year-old averages 0.19 assists every game which puts him ahead of the likes of Don Cowie (0.11) and Walker (0.08). However, it’s not the highest of bars to measure himself by. After all, Naismith has provided just one assist since arriving at Tynecastle. Yes, he’s only played in seven league games, but it’s hard to argue that one goal, one assist and one key pass is not a disappointing return from Naismith.
Moreover, the table above is another eye-opener when it comes to Naismith’s performances for Hearts. The number of one-on-one dribbles he performs is lower than it should be. He’s the kind of player that should be taking on his man and trying to beat him. However, the likes of Milinkovic (3.61) and Walker (2.76) partake in significantly more one vs one dribbles than Naismith (1.60) per 90 minutes.
One of Naismith’s strengths is his versatility. We’ve seen him play in numerous positions which makes it surprising that Hearts have played him primarily as a centre-forward. Initially, he was a lone striker, filling in for the suspended Kyle Lafferty. However, he has since gone on to partner the Northern Irishman for the majority of his Hearts career.
With that being said, perhaps it’s slightly harsh to say Naismith isn’t providing enough crosses into the box or enough assists when he’s playing in a more advanced central role. It’s slightly surprising that Levein hasn’t tested Naismith in a wider area more often. Especially given the lack of options Hearts have. Milinkovic has had a good season and Cowie has been decent too, but surely it’s worth giving Naismith an opportunity on the wing.
Naismith had an impressive 2010/11 season for Rangers. He bagged 11 league goals and nine assists and played a significant role in the Ibrox club winning the Premiership. What’s interesting to note is that for the majority of that season Naismith was deployed on the right-hand side. He would play in an advanced role on the right wing with Kenny Miller and, funnily enough, Kyle Lafferty playing through the middle. Simply put, he was at his most effective out wide.
Now, of course, he was playing in a more dominant Rangers team at the time meaning he will have had more opportunities to attack, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he was extremely potent in this position.
Given five of his seven league appearances for Hearts have been as a centre-forward, why not shake it up a bit and see what he can bring on the right-hand side in a wider area? There’s no guarantee he’ll suddenly become a goal and assist machine, but given his track record and lack of impact at Tynecastle so far it is definitely worth a shot.
What is undoubtedly quite interesting is that this week Levein stated he was keen to keep Naismith at the club after his current loan deal expires. The attacker may go on to have an impressive end to the season, but unless he does why would Levein want to keep him over the likes of Milinkovic?
Milinkovic is also a loanee who is set to leave at the end of the season. However, he’s been one of Hearts’ best players this campaign. The winger outperforms Naismith in each of the metrics we focused on in this article. Per 90 minutes he produces more goals, more assists and more key passes. In fact, nobody has made more key passes or provided more assists this season than the 23-year-old.
With that in mind, why wouldn’t Levein come out and say he’s just as keen to keep Milinkovic at the club as he is Naismith? Perhaps it is because the latter is a bigger name or maybe Levein is counting on Naismith improving from now until the end of the season. Nevertheless, keeping Milinkovic should be a priority.
Naismith is keen to stay in Gorgie and prove a point. Perhaps we are yet to see the best of him. And let’s hope that is the case as it would be great to see him firing on all cylinders in the Premiership once again.