Sam Nicholson 21 Midfielder Hearts Scotland
Smart, gifted and popular Edinburgh born winger who has already played more than 100 times for Heart of Midlothian.
Nicholson made his Hearts debut at the end of August 2013, arriving as a late substitute for Jamie Walker in a 2–0 defeat at Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Used intermittently by Coach Gary Locke, the young Scot scored his first senior goal on 18 January 2014 - an 89th minute leveller to help his side earn a point from a 3–3 draw against St Johnstone.
The backdrop to this period was the final acts of Vladimir Romanov’s hugely damaging period of ownership at Hearts, which would see the club put into administration and relegated from the top flight at the end of Nicholson’s debut season. With relegation confirmed by the first week of April and Romanov’s reign effectively at an end, the Edinburgh outfit, with the pressure lifted, finally hit some form with Nicholson playing a starring role in a 5-0 victory over Kilmarnock.
With the familiar face of Development Coach Robbie Neilson now in charge of first team affairs, Nicholson was very much a key player for Hearts at the start of the 2014-15 season. An opening day victory over Rangers at Ibrox, in which Nicholson laid on a late winner for Osman Sow, set the tone for the season as the Jambos cruised to promotion. By the end of the campaign Nicholson had scored five and created a further six goals in 21 league starts.
2016 has been…
In a word; tiring. Maintaining his good form as Hearts returned to the Scottish Premiership, Nicholson had no problem adapting to a higher level and was a key player in Neilson’s side as they ended 2015 in third place. A knee injury picked up in January this year proved to be something of a limiter for him, however. Despite missing just two matches and returning to first team action quickly, he was clearly running on very empty by the spring as Hearts stumbled through the closing weeks of the season.
Well rested over the summer, the winger was not quite in the zone as his club returned to action in the July Europa League qualifiers. Dropped and given something of a rocket by his coach, Nicholson galvanised himself and was an ever present in the league up until the end of September. A routine knee operation conducted during the international break showed up a potentially more serious problem though, and, as a result, the midfielder has not yet returned to action.
The injury arrived at a truly infuriating time for club and player. Nicholson had displayed some of the best football of his career so far in the opening weeks of the season and was in the sort of groove that would quickly put him in contention for a first full international cap. Alas the injury jinx that appears to have hit several of the IBWM 100 this year has compromised progress, but there must be relief that serious damage may have been averted.
Current estimates suggest that Nicholson is likely to be back in early January, but he will return to a Hearts side no longer selected by the excellent Robbie Nielson, who has accepted the manager’s role at MK Dons. In his place, and facing a great deal of unfair criticism from ‘observers’ in the Scottish Media, is the former Newcastle United assistant manager, Ian Cathro.
Cathro’s crime, in the eyes of some, is to work as a coach having not played the game at an appropriate level. However those players that have worked with him in England, Scotland, Portugal and Spain (Cathro was also assistant at Rio Ave and Valencia) describe an extremely effective motivator that is able to bring out the best in individual players.
Sam Nicholson is a clever and adept modern footballer that can destroy a defender with pace and trickery. If there’s an area to work on it’s his delivery from the wings, which is one of the reasons we suspect he will eventually become a more central figure - a number ten perhaps. He has already stepped up one notch this season, once back from injury it will be interesting to see how his journey progresses.
C Gaining momentum
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