First Team

Eyes wide open for James

20th July 2014

Wide-ranging chat with Keatings reveals thoughts on style of play, size of club & hopes for new season.

Summer signing James Keatings admitted he had no idea just how big a team Heart of Midlothian was until he made his Tynecastle bow in Friday night's glamour friendly with English champions Manchester City.

The striker - signed from Hamilton Academical in June - played the last half hour of the game, and revealed he relished the chance to test his skills against the best in the business after a stop-start pre-season.

"It was good to get another half an hour under my belt", explained James. "I've had a few niggles and issues with my hamstring in pre-season, so more game time is beneficial."

"We had a great experience tonight. We got to test ourselves against the champions of England. I know a lot of their players were at the World Cup, but there was still real quality on the pitch."

Backed by a bumper crowd of over 12,000, fans were rewarded with a terrific, competitive game that the Citizens ultimately won thanks to goals from internationalists Scott Sinclair and Aleksandar Kolarov.

Having won promotion after Hamilton's SPFL Premiership Play-Off victory over Hibs in May, James surprised some by rejecting the chance to stay in the top flight as the lure of the Jambos' revival proved too great.

"The crowd tonight is proof that I made the right choice", he insisted. "I couldn't turn down a club the size of Hearts, regardless of the league they were in. The crowd for a Friday night game was incredible.

"I was on the fringes at Celtic, I was never in the first team, so maybe I couldn't appreciate their size", James continued. "Coming here into the first team has opened my eyes.

"I recognise just how huge a club Hearts is, and everybody's so happy that the dark days are over now. Hopefully on the pitch, we can keep Hearts moving upwards. This club is meant to be playing at the top in Scotland."

The Jam Tarts are already starting to win plaudits from punters and pundits alike as head coach Robbie Neilson and his backroom staff attempt to implement a more possession-based style of play into the first team.

James disclosed that the 'brand of football' the coaching staff are trying to create is starting to pay dividends after a month of hard work on the training field. The striker acknowledged that his experience of playing at Hamilton - renowned for their good football - held him in good stead for the move to the capital.

"It's all starting to gel together. We've been working on pass-and-move football, playing from the back and it's getting there. It'll click into place when the season starts."

"I played this kind of football at Hamilton so it's really easy to slot in to, keeping the ball on the deck, always moving, creating space. It's proper football."

Finally, the Scotland youth cap warned that Hearts will have a fight on their hands if they want to return to the top flight at the first attempt, with established Championship sides recruiting quality players in their bids to pip the Jambos to a promotion spot.

"Obviously Rangers are going to be the favourites but we have a massive opportunity too. There's going to be a lot of tough games, hard away matches to play. Undoubtedly, it'll be tougher than last season."

"The likes of Livingston, Falkirk, Raith Rovers have all strengthened from last season and obviously with Rangers there too, it means we'll need to work even harder if we want to achieve our goals, which we're determined to do."