The defeat at home to Celtic was Hearts' ninth game in the league this year, nearly a quarter of the way through the domestic season. Tom Irving looks at the players that were involved regularly both in Hearts' 22/23 and 23/24 seasons, and compares their data through both percentiles (as shown on the graphs) and raw data.

Initial thoughts

Continuity from season to season is important, and keeping the spine of the team together is the easiest way to achieve this. With only seven regulars (eight including a late blooming Yutaro Oda) from last season also playing regularly this season, that makes it hard to achieve a high level of continuity.

There’s been a level of bad luck with regards to injuries to first team players leaving Liam Boyce, Alex Cochrane, Beni Baningime and Barrie McKay out of my comparisons, on top of the long-term injury to recovering Craig Halkett. Has the lack of continuity been down to this? Has the loss of players to other clubs been a cause? Or have Hearts just recruited well?

Playing higher up the park

Statsbomb tracks the data of where players successfully make passes, the Average Pass X. The group of players looked at in this article all had a higher Average Pass X, apart from Oda. This means that seven out of the eight returning regulars on average were successfully making passes higher up the park. In the cases of Toby Sibbick, Stephen Kingsley and Alan Forrest, the difference could be due to a change in playing position, with the three of them having a more advanced role. With Lawrence Shankland, Kye Rowles, Nathaniel Atkinson and Cammy Devlin playing in similar positions, the higher Average Pass X is a positive which is highlights a more advanced position on the ball.

Nathaniel Atkinson


Atkinson has yet to contribute either a goal or assist this season, but his xA (Expected Assists) and xG (Expected Goals) are both similar to his impressive numbers last season. If he can keep this up, we can be hopeful that he can start to contribute goals to the squad.

Atkinson’s crossing is down from 50 per cent to 23 per cent accuracy, but he may not fully be to blame. The lack of an effective partnership up front has led to a struggle producing goals, and Atkinson's crosses may well just be missing the brilliant movement of Josh Ginnelly for them to be of benefit to the team.

READ MORE: How recruitment works at Hearts - transfer process, missed targets, scouting markets

Even though he has contributed over double the number of shots per 90 minutes, and well over double the number of touches in the box, he’s dribbling with the ball around a third of the amount of times compared to last year and passing the ball much more. Has the difference in style been beneficial to the full-back's performance?


Atkinson is involved in more PAdj tackles (Possession Adjusted Tackles, a stat that gives a more accurate representation of tackles regardless of a team’s possession) than 93 per cent of wide players in the league. He’s also improved vastly in his successful duels and is still performing well on ball recoveries.

He is performing worse in several defensive metrics though. His aggressive duels (defensive actions within two seconds of an opposition player receiving the ball) have reduced by a third, and he’s only recovering around half as many balls in the final third.

It’s possible that he’s been told to be involved more in attack and find positions higher up the pitch whilst in possession, but when out of possession to return into his full-back position instead of pressing players further up the park.

Toby Sibbick


Sibbick plays as both a centre and full-back, but I’ve decided to compare him against other centre-backs as I personally feel he’s more suited to that position and has played mostly in that position since the beginning of last season.

Even though he hasn’t contributed to a goal yet, he has one of the highest xG of all central defenders in the league. This may be down to his role swapping between the central and full-back positions. He’s got an xG of 0.9 so he’s expected to score onc every 11 games. By my maths, that means he’ll score in the next two games. Make of that what you will!


The English defender's statistics in possession show what can only be a positional change. He’s passing backwards more, his Average Pass X is much higher up the park, and the amount of open-play passes into the box are off the chart. The move from being predominantly a centre-back to being mostly used as a right-back is the most likely cause of these changes.


Sibbick has a number of significant differences that are again most likely down to the different role he’s playing in the team. He has·been involved in nearly double the number of tackles as last season, made almost twice as many counter-pressures (pressing within five seconds of a turnover) and has 1.7 times as many pressures.

READ MORE: Positioning, passing and not enough risks - where Hearts went wrong against Celtic

He’s clearly improved defensively based on the data but is that because he’s improving, or is that because his strength and speed fares better against a smaller winger than a strong centre-forward?

Kye Rowles


Rowles shooting accuracy has improved drastically. He’s went from getting around eight per cent of his shots on target to around 40 per cent. It’s early days yet, but if he keeps this accuracy up then he will hopefully start adding goals from set-pieces.


The main takeaway from his possession stats is that he’s much more comfortable dribbling with the ball out of defence. He’s dribbling three times more than he was last season and contributing to three times as many deep progressions (passes and dribbles into the opponents final third).


Everyone’s main worry with Rowles is his aerial ability. He’s often bullied by dominant centre-forwards, and last season was in the lowest percentile for aerial duels with only a 50-per-cent win rate. This season, he remains in the bottom percentile, but is only winning 44 per cent of his aerial duels. This is most likely due to the addition of Frankie Kent. Where last season the opposition fancied their chances against any central defender, this season they are avoiding a battle with Kent.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Rowles isn’t a ball-winning, hard-as-nails centre-back. He’s accustomed more to the sweeper role, which is still alive and well in modern football. He is excellent when it comes to counter-pressing, and still improving, with him initiating the counter press 2.96 times a game (up from 1.88), resulting in nearly double the amount of regains from the press. Rowles also has 50 per cent more ball recoveries and a significantly higher number of recoveries in the final third, while he is also continuing his brilliant interception and pressing abilities.

It’s no secret that Rowles thrives with a dominant centre back next to him. With Halkett hopefully returning in the next month, do we see Steven Naismith replacing Rowles or Kent, or will he move to a back three, with the battering rams that are Halkett and Kent playing alongside the sweeping Rowles?

Cammy Devlin


This is the only part of Devlin's game that seems to have gone backwards this season. He’s yet to score or assist and isn’t looking too dangerous based on his xG and xA, even though his number of touches in the box is significantly higher. This data, amongst other things, makes me believe that Naismith has changed his role within the team. He’s no longer looking to be a box-to-box midfielder, and instead doing what he does best: his off-the-ball work.


Devlin is in the 90th percentile for accurate passes. This means he is better than 90 per cent of the players he was compared to, and he is doing so by finding his target with a pass 86 per cent of the time.

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He may not have a vast range of passing, but shouts of “he loses the ball every time he gets it” are absurd. His improvement on last season is again probably down to a slightly different role in the team. Devlin is also seeing vast improvements in his dribbling, with 80 per cent of his dribbles now being successful (up from a respectable 55 per cent), which is more evidence of a tidy midfielder who’s able to retain the ball. This data also leads to him having over 1.5 times as many deep progressions as well.


Now here’s where the diminutive Aussie thrives. There’s nobody better in the league than Devlin when it comes to the defensive side of his game. The amount of green in that section of his chart is almost offensive to a Jambo.

He sits in the 90th percentile or above for recoveries in the final third, counter-pressures, interceptions, pressures and tackles, and is the best in the league in ball recoveries. He’s averaging around 17 ball recoveries per game: absolutely incredible stats that truly highlight his value to any team.

Lawrence Shankland


Shankland has come under a bit of scrutiny for the run of games he’s went without a goal, yet his tally is now up to six in all competitions thanks to his strike against Celtic at the weekend.

The captain has had a similar number of shots to last season, but a lower shooting accuracy and lower xG. It’s likely that the chances he’s getting are slightly harder than last season, which has led to him struggling a bit to find the target domestically. This could be down to confidence, his movement, his team-mates not creating as much for him, or the lack of a good partner like he had in Ginnelly.


Shankland’s role seems to have been slightly altered. He’s ranking lower in a number of defensive metrics. Counter-pressures are down from 3.82 to 2.75, aggressive actions down from 8.86 to 6.41, ball recoveries down from 5.4 to 4.37, and PAdj tackles down from 1.15 to 0.38.

Naismith, being the experienced striker that he was, has most likely told Shankland to focus on what he’s best at. He’s good at getting into good areas to receive the ball for a chance at goal, using his hold up play to bring others into the game, and creating in and around the box. What may look like laziness to the untrained eye, can also be explained through tactics.

Alan Forrest

Forrest’s downfall may be that he’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. He’s pretty good across the board, and in general is just as good or better than last year. This has seen him be shoehorned into multiple different positions, and never really given the chance to lock down a position of his own.

READ MORE: Tactics, defensive numbers and a lop-sided attack - The Hearts season so far

This season we are seeing more shots, like the derby-day rocket, and more touches in the box. His data is certainly not bad to look at, and if he can recover some of the goal contributing form from his Livi days, then he may have a breakout season in maroon.

Stephen Kingsley

Another player whose data is most likely skewed by a change of position. Kingsley’s creating more chances, with his xA being nearly three times higher this season, and is also getting double the amount of touches in the box.

In possession he’s dribbling more, choosing harder forward passes which is resulting in less accurate passes, and is racking up more deep progressions and deep completions (successful passes in the final 20 yards of the opponent’s half).

Defensively he’s still excellent in the air but isn’t winning as many defensive duels. This could potentially be the opposite to Sibbick in that he performs worse against quick, skilful wingers. He’s also winning the ball back more in the final third.

All of the above shows more of a difference in position than difference in performance. The question tough, is where is he best suited?

Yutaro Oda

A bit of a wildcard to include. Once he was put into regular contention for a place, he became a name you’d expect to see in the starting line-up. I’m sure that if Naismith took over earlier last season, that he’d have been a regular player for us for much longer.

Defensively, Oda is brilliant and has been both seasons. He’s the kind of player that you’d hate to play against with his speed, agility and work-rate, and this shows in his stats.

He’s playing more and creating a similar amount of goals and xG. If he continues to start for Hearts, I can see him potentially pushing for double figures this season. His current xG has him scoring a goal every five games, which would leave him on seven or eight goals for the season.

He’s had less shots combined with a lower shot-to-touch ratio. This could be down to him being less of an impact player, and more of a confident, creative player we look to build through.

So, after seeing all the data, who do you think has improved this season?