Take a look back at the year that was 2018...
The Jambos went into 2018 sitting 5th in the Ladbrokes Premiership table and would resume footballing duties with a mouth-watering William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round tie against Hibs on January 21st.
There were personnel changes heading in the New Year; Jamie Walker left for Wigan Athletic, Isma Goncalves joined Uzbekistan side Pakhtakor Tashkent while Cole Stockton, Rafal Grzelak and Krystian Nowak all departed the club, and Ashley Smith-Brown was recalled by parent club Manchester City following an injury-plagued spell in Gorgie.
New faces arrived too; Danny Amankwaa joined from FC Copenhagen, Joaquim Adao penned a six-month loan deal, as did Manchester United full-back Demi Mitchell. Craig Levein pulled off the coup of the transfer window, however, by adding Scotland international Steven Naismith to his squad, on loan from Norwich City.
Squad bolstered, the team travelled to Spain for a winter training camp. Friendly matches against Vitesse Arnhem and FC Nurnberg kept things ticking over, as the boys enjoyed some team-bonding in the Spanish sun.
That paid dividends, as the men in maroon saw off their city rivals upon their return to competitive action. A typically tight derby affair under the Tynecastle floodlights was settled when Don Cowie flicked Christophe Berra’s header beyond Ofir Marciano and over the line, despite the best efforts of John McGinn. That the goal came with only three minutes remaining made the win even sweeter, and Hearts would advance to the fifth-round, where they would face fellow Premiership side St Johnstone.
And so began a hectic period. Despite enjoying a winter break, the Jambos would play four games in ten days. Hamilton has become a happy hunting ground in recent years and that continued with a 3-0 win on January 24th, thanks to Ross Callachan, David Milinkovic and Dario Zanatta goals.
Three days later the team looked to be on course to extend their new record-breaking cleansheet run to nine games after Milinkovic had put Hearts 1-0 up at home to Motherwell but, with virtually the last kick of the ball, Curtis Main bagged an equaliser for the Steelmen. The result, however, meant that Hearts had gone 12 games unbeaten in all competitions.
That unbeaten run would come to an end at Celtic Park on January 30th. Odsonne Edouard, Dedryck Boyata and Moussa Dembele goals had Celtic 3-0 up at half-time, though Kyle Lafferty pulled one back in the 67th minute to continue his impressive goal-scoring record against the champions.
The month began with a St Johnstone double header. Milinkovic’s 46th minute goal secured three points on February 3rd, before a Lafferty double and Mitchell’s wonder-goal seven days later sent Hearts into the Scottish Cup quarter-finals.
Lafferty was on the scoresheet again on February 17th, opening the scoring in Dingwall with a superb free-kick. Jason Naismith equalised late on, meaning Hearts had to settle for a point against Ross County.
A 2-0 reverse at Ibrox followed, before the men in maroon were held at home by Kilmarnock, with Naismith cancelling out Eammon Brophy’s early opener.
There was bad news on the injury front, with Jamie Brandon rupturing his ACL and Arnaud Djoum snapping an Achilles tendon. They would face nine and eight months out, respectively.
Better news came in the form of Marcus Godinho penning a new two-year deal.
The ‘Beast from the East’ caused chaos across Scotland with heavy snowfall disrupting life in every corner of the country. It was something of a minor miracle that Hearts’ Scottish Cup QF tie at Motherwell went ahead on March 4th, thanks to the hard work of the staff and volunteers at Fir Park who helped to clear the stadium and surrounding areas of snow. The snow may not have melted, but Hearts’ cup aspirations did; confusion at the back led to Main opening the scoring on seven minutes, before Lafferty leveled things up from the spot. The game looked to be heading for a replay until Carl McHugh popped up in the 86th minute with a stunning strike to win the game. It was Hearts’ first quarter-final appearance in six years but there would be no Hampden return.
Worse was to follow when Hibs won the next Edinburgh derby 2-0 at Easter Road. Scott Allan and Jamie Maclaren goals sealed the win under the Easter Road floodlights.
Hearts got back to winning ways on March 17th, cruising to a 3-0 home win over relegation-bound Partick Thistle. Lafferty, Naismith and John Souttar goals had the Jambos on easy street before the first-half was out.
March saw the departure of goalkeeper Viktor Noring, who had failed to command a starting place in his near two-year stint at the club.
Sticking with goalkeepers, the outstanding Jon McLaughlin was called into the Scotland squad for the first time, while Lafferty and Aaron Hughes continued to feature for Northern Ireland, and Godinho received his maiden call up to the full Canada squad.
An April Fools’ Day encounter at Dens Park ended all square when Soufian Moussa cancelled out Ross Callachan’s second-minute opener.
One of the performances of the season followed when Hearts sunk high-flying Aberdeen 2-0 at Tynecastle, thanks to Naismith and Milinkovic strikes.
Post split fixtures kicked off with defeats away to Rangers and Aberdeen, losing 2-1 and 2-0, which meant there were no more points on the board as the month fizzled out.
The club announced a new hybrid pitch would be installed in the summer, a major investment as Tynecastle Redevelopment Project continued to gather pace.
The first pre-contract move was confirmed when Hearts announced that Uche Ikpeazu would join in the summer from Cambridge United, as would Steven MacLean from St Johnstone, while Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald signed new deals.
The club also confirmed that Prince Buaben would leave upon expiration of his contract, while Connor Randall would return to parent club Liverpool.
A repeat of that famous 4-0 win over Celtic looked on the cards when Lafferty put Hearts 1-0 up at home to the champions, following Callachan’s legitimate goal being unfairly chalked off. Celtic rallied though, and won 3-1.
The Jambos signed off their home campaign in style with a 2-1 derby win over Hibs. Florian Kamberi cancelled out Lafferty’s opener – his 19th goal of the season – but Naismith headed home on 57 minutes to seal the win.
A bizarre combination of injuries and suspensions meant that Hearts travelled to Kilmarnock for the final game of the season with 20 players missing. Four 16-year-olds made their first-team debuts and gave a great account of themselves as Lee Erwin’s first-half goal edged out Hearts 1-0.
Hearts would finish the campaign in sixth, a position that Craig Levein admitted was not where he wanted to be but one he would take given the disturbance of playing so many games away from home earlier in the season due to the construction of the new Tynecastle Main Stand.
So began a period of transfers; highly-rated Northern Irish youngster Bobby burns would move from Glenavon, Jake Mulraney would join from Inverness CT with Angus Beith going in the other direction, and Olly Lee was confirmed as arriving from Luton Town.
More players were added; Ben Garuccio would join from Australian side Adelaide United and Bobby Zlamal, the Czech goalkeeper, from FC Zlin.
The gossip columns were kept busy as Hearts continued their squad overhaul. Ryan Edwards joined from Partick Thistle, Oliver Bozanic signed from Melbourne City, Hughes signed a contract extension, nine Academy players penned their first full-time deals and Peter Haring would join from Austrian side SV Ried.
Going other way was McLaughlin, who left when his contract expired.
Pre-season started with an infamous trip to the dunes of Gullane beach, with many first-team players commenting that it was the toughest pre-season they had ever faced.
Friendly matches away to Arbroath, Dumbarton, Partick Thistle all resulted in victory, though the Jambos would fall 1-0 at Queen of the South. A 5-1 win at Forfar would prove to be the perfect warm up as the Betfred Cup campaign kicked off on July 18th with a 2-1 win away at Cove Rangers, with debutants Lee and MacLean bagging their first goals.
Alistair Roy left the club to join Irish side Derry City and Conor Sammon moved on loan to Motherwell. The big news of the month was that Steven Naismith would return on a season-long loan.
A brace of goalkeepers would also join the club; American Kevin Silva and Republic of Ireland international Colin Doyle both arrived at Tynecastle.
The Betfred Cup campaign continued as Michael Smith’s stunning goal sealed a 1-1 draw away to Raith Rovers, though Berra’s late goal was wrongly ruled out. Hearts would win the penalty shootout and a bonus point which would prove to be crucial.
An administrative error meant that youngster Andy Irving was listed on the bench against Cove Rangers when he shouldn’t have, resulting in a two-point deduction.
Needing wins and goals, Hearts duly delivered. A 5-0 rout of Cowdenbeath set up a winner-takes-all clash against John Robertson’s Inverness CT at Tynecastle, and the Jambos went goal crazy again, winning 5-0 to top the group and advance to the knockout phase.
The 2018/19 Premiership season started at Hamilton Accies, and Hearts kept up their good form in Lanarkshire. Despite falling behind to Mikel Miller’s opener, the men in maroon found their shooting boots again, with Haring bagging two, Naismith one and MacLean another to give Hearts a 4-1 win.
The home campaign started with a 1-0 win over champions Celtic. Lafferty’s 56th minute volley bagged all three points, though skipper Berra would tear his hamstring and miss the next four months of the season.
Next up was a trip to East End Park for the second-round of the Betfred Cup. A close affair was settled when Lee struck from just inside the box with 11 minutes remaining.
Another away match followed and Hearts recorded an impressive 1-0 win at Rugby Park, with Ikpeazu’s second-half header proving the difference.
There were more personnel changes before the month was out. Don Cowie left to join Ross County, Liam Smith moved to Ayr United and Lafferty rejoined Rangers. Levein bolstered his defence by adding Jimmy Dunne on loan from Burnley.
Craig Wighton would arrive from Dundee and Mitchell would return on loan from Manchester United, while Burns and Edwards went out to Livingston and St Mirren respectively and Callachan moved permanently to St Johnstone.
Malaury Martin and Aidan Keena were also on the move, with the duo both joining Dunfermline on loan.
Hearts continued their impressive start to the season with a 4-1 home win over St Mirren. Naismith bagged a hat-trick and Lee scored again, as Djoum made his long-awaited comeback.
The Jambos made it five league wins from five the following week with a 1-0 victory at Motherwell, courtesy of Naismith’s 28th minute strike.
A frustrating 0-0 draw at home with Livingston ensured that Hearts remained unbeaten in the league, and while that fixture served up no goals, the next was an absolute cracker.
Hearts hosted Motherwell in the Betfred Cup quarter-finals and there was to be no repeat of last season’s Scottish Cup exit. ‘Well took the lead through Main but MacLean evened things up before the half was out. Haring put Hearts in front before Ryan Bowman equalised. Lee would then put Hearts in the driving seat with two minutes remaining, before Naismith put the icing on the cake with a fourth in stoppage time. It was a classic cup tie under the Tynecastle floodlights and set up a semi-final clash with Celtic.
The final game of the month brought around another Jam Tarts win, this time against St Johnstone. Haring and Dunne put the Jambos 2-0 up, though Callachan halved the deficit to ensure a nervy finish.
More new faces arrived at Tynecastle before the month was out; Clevid Dikamona joined as a free agent, as did the promising Sean Clare.
Hearts’ incredible 13-match unbeaten run in all competitions came to an end with a 3-1 loss away to Rangers.
The now infamous injury curse started to kick in when Souttar got injured playing for Scotland, resulting in a lengthy spell on the sidelines, and a foot injury to Ikpeazu would see him miss the next chunk of the season.
Hearts immediately bounced back though, beating Aberdeen 2-1 at Tynecastle thanks to Djoum and Naismith goals.
That was followed up with 3-0 victory at Dens Park, courtesy of Bozanic, Naismith and MacLean goals.
It was to be the last bit of good news that Hearts had for a while as Celtic ran out 3-0 winners in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Murrayfield. Naismith pulled up injured only minutes into the fixture, which would sideline him until December.
The first Edinburgh derby of the season finished in a stalemate at Tynecastle as Hearts finished the month was long-term injuries to three of their key players.
A 5-0 reversal at Celtic Park was a sign of things to come, as Hearts then fell 1-0 at home to Kilmarnock.
The month got worse after a 2-0 defeat at St Mirren, as Dunne, who earned a call up to the Republic of Ireland squad, became the next victim of the injury curse.
Off the pitch, the club was devastated when former Board Director and Vice Chairman, Pilmar Smith, sadly passed away.
A controversial start to the month saw Rangers escape from Tynecastle with a 2-1 win, despite Alfredo Morelos’ winner proving to be offside. One bit of positive news came in the return to action of club captain Berra.
Hearts were left to curse their luck again when a debatable penalty was given against them at McDiarmid Park which allowed St Johnstone to secure a 2-2 draw when the men in maroon looked good for their lead.
December 8th saw Hearts return to winning ways with a 1-0 victory at to Motherwell, courtesy of Haring’s early header.
If it was thought a corner had been turned, Hearts were brought crashing down to earth with a 5-0 defeat away to Livingston. The manager branded it completely unacceptable and vowed that type of performance would never be repeated.
The busy festive period continued with a trip to Aberdeen. Hearts would go on to lose 2-0 but, again, were left to rue decisions when they were denied what appeared to be two clear penalties. Good news did come, however, as Naismith returned to action, as did Brandon.
A boxing day Tynecastle encounter with Hamilton Accies would see Hearts get back on track as they cruised to a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Naismith and Djoum.
So 2018 would end the way it had started, with an Edinburgh derby. Hearts travelled to Easter Road for the final match of the year, and what a match it turned out to be. With 28 minutes gone, Lee turned Paul Hanlon inside out before lashing an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 25-yards out. It was enough to seal the win and send 4,000 Hearts fans home to start New Year celebrations early and keep Hearts only six points off the top of the table, despite a horrific run of injuries that coincided with a loss of form.
As you’ve just read, it’s been quite the year at Heart of Midlothian Football Club, with the usual doses of tragedy and triumph. Starting and finishing the year with victories over Hibs will ensure 2018 was a memorable year, and we now look forward to seeing more #HeartsClass in 2019.
Happy New Year, Jambos!