Two Rangers substitutes scored goals which led to Hearts missing out on Scottish Cup glory at Hampden last month. It was ironic, since in spite of a successful season, it hammered home just how far the Jambos have to go if they want to close the gap with Scotland’s two top teams.
Hearts huffed and puffed for the first 45 minutes and succeeded in nullifying the Europa League finalists and had Ellis Simms buried the golden opportunity that fell his way after just ten minutes, then the outcome might have been a completely different one.
In the end, Ryan Jack and Scott Wright came off the bench to see Rangers end an emotional week on a high. The Scottish pair, along with fellow outfield substitutes Glen Kamara and Fashion Sakala highlight the quality that the Old Firm sides have at their disposal.
It was the same story when Hearts visited Celtic Park last month. The men in maroon were playing well until Celtic brought on Georgios Giakoumakis, Liel Abada, Reo Hatate, Tom Rogic and James Forrest, who took the game away from the visitors.
This is now the challenge that Hearts manager Robbie Neilson has to deal with this summer. With Hearts’ third-place finish guaranteeing group-stage European football of some form until December, Hearts must begin next season with a bigger squad to help cope with the hectic Thursday-Sunday fixture schedule.
Fortunately, for achieving that third-place finish they will receive a substantial financial reward and with any luck, former Hearts man, Aaron Hickey will finalise a move away from Bologna for roughly £15-20 million pounds, of which, Hearts are entitled to a sell on clause which is reported to be at least 10%.
The excellent recruitment Hearts have made in the last two summer windows means that they will be recruiting from a position of strength and with the money earned from their efforts this season, sporting director Joe Savage and manager Robbie Neilson will be backing themselves to find the right additions.
John Souttar pulled on the maroon jersey for the last time at Hampden and was arguably Hearts’ best player on the day, despite the external noise about him featuring in a match against his future employers.
Ball-playing centre backs are very difficult to find in the modern-day era, which is why Souttar will be very difficult for Hearts to replace and at this moment in time Peter Haring is yet to agree on a new contract which would keep him at Tynecastle.
Despite all that, Hearts have had a magnificent season and although they failed to cap it off with some silverware, the transformation at the club in the last twelve months shows that they are on the right track.