RR: Tell me who you are and what you do in relation to Hearts?
DI: Both myself and my co-host, Adam Kennedy, host the ‘Perth to Paisley’ podcast - a podcast centered all around Heart of Midlothian Football Club! We’re both on the younger side of the Hearts fanbase, myself turning 25 this coming month and Adam just turning 24, so we like to think we offer a unique Hearts perspective as our favourite memories, heroes and villains that have been associated with the club tend to be more recent compared to other podcasts available!
RR: Hearts had Ellis Simms on loan last season. How did he do?
DI: In a word - brilliantly. We had a fantastic season last year, getting to the final of the Scottish Cup and finishing third at an absolute canter whilst simultaneously guaranteeing ourselves group stage European football. So there was very little to grumble about for Hearts fans last year.
But, towards the end of the calendar year, there was concern about the forward options. Players such as Gary-Mackay Steven, Josh Ginnelly and the on-loan Liverpool man Ben Woodburn hadn’t been setting the heather alight, so all our hopes were pinned on the one, in-form striker we had at the club – Liam Boyce.
Now, despite a 16-goal season, Boyce was struggling to lead the line himself as it was apparent he’d like a partner. When Ellis came in during the January window, all our problems essentially disappeared. Scoring a now-iconic goal in the Scottish Cup semi-final against derby rivals Hibernian was the main highlight, but he was everything we wanted from an on-loan striker. Hit the ground running, caused problems and scored goals (7 goals in 21 appearances). His arrival also helped Boyce as he dropped into a deeper, number 10 type role which allowed a, sadly, short-lived partnership to blossom.
RR: What kind of forward is he?
DI: The most obvious part to start with is his size. He is excellent at flick-ons, winning headers generally, and he knows how to use his strength. If Sunderland fans want to see the best example of this, go and watch his assist against Hibs in the last derby of the league season at Tynecastle. He uses his body to hold off experienced defender Paul Hanlon, a man a decade his elder and experience level, before pulling it back for Andy Halliday to equalise.
However, he’s also very capable of running in behind. His turn of pace may initially be surprising for a guy of his size but he, again, seems to have experience beyond his years and knows when to time his run excellently. He also loves to shoot early.
The first couple of games for us had fans slightly frustrated at his want to take an extra touch would lead to chances going begging, but that quickly disappeared as he went with the time-honoured tradition of ‘Hit it early, hit it hard’. Again, if fans want to see this in action - watch the goal he scored I mentioned earlier in the Scottish Cup semi-final. A rocket of a strike.
RR: At 21 years old, some fans might wonder why he’s out on loan and hasn’t been given a game at Everton.
DI: I’ll be completely honest here and give quite a rubbish answer – I have no idea! If he was at a Premier League club placed higher in the table, I’d understand it a bit more, but with the plight Everton have experienced over the past 18 months, I think most of the Hearts fanbase are surprised he hasn’t featured more. The one thing I will say is that his first touch can be quite...varied. Occasionally, he’ll expertly bring the ball into his feet and turn. At other times, the ball could hit off him and go five yards in another direction. But honestly, I think Everton could do a lot worse than giving him a shot!
RR: How have the Maroon Platoon taken to him? Sad to see him go or not that fussed?
DI: To be blunt, we’re all pretty devastated. As soon as the season ended and we knew we were playing European football, many fans thought this would be potential bargaining power to bring Ellis back to Tynecastle. This whole summer, anytime our manager Robbie Neilson has been sat in front of the press, he has inevitably been asked about him as well. Like all football fans, we’re an emotional bunch, so when he put in two excellent, back-to-back, performances in Edinburgh Derbies – one being in the national cup final – we were always going to take to him. So yes, you’d struggle to find someone from a Gorgie persuasion who won’t sing his praises at any opportunity!
RR: How do you think he will fare in the championship in front of an expectant Sunderland crowd? (I gather you know something about NE crowds?)
DI: I do indeed, and this is where I’m fully buying into the idea that this move is a conspiracy to annoy me! Yes, I’m sorry to disappoint your readers, but my English side are Newcastle United (you can stop reading now, I understand). So not only do I have the disappointment that he’s not coming back to my Scottish club, he’s gone to the rivals of my English club!
However, for all the annoyance it will cause me, I think Simms will do very well in front of ‘you lot’. Tynecastle is famed for its atmosphere due to how tight the stands are to the pitch and never once did Ellis shrink or disappear under that pressure. Playing in three Edinburgh Derbies, travelling to Ibrox and Celtic Park never once seemed to affect him, so I’m sure he’ll very quickly win over the Mackem hearts.
RR: What good things can we expect from him, and what do you think he needs to improve upon?
DI: As mentioned, his strength, power and quickness are definitely the highlights. Always looking for the ball, knows how to use his body and will look for goal as his first port of call. His touch could definitely use some improvements, and I hope he continues to go with instinct rather than the potential he showed to take a few more touches than he needs to.