Kyosuke Tagawa has toughest Hearts job as Steven Naismith makes prediction over Japanese hitman

Steven Naismith reckons Kyosuke Tagawa has one of the toughest jobs in Scottish football trying to dislodge Lawrence Shankland. But he’s convinced the Japanese striker can hit the ground running next season.

Tagawa came off the bench at Tynecastle to grab a stunning, last-gasp equaliser in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Rangers. Shankland had given the Jambos a first-half lead before they found themselves two behind after their break. Dexter Lembikisa’s strike then Tagawa’s leveller earned Hearts a point and Naismith was delighted for his back-up striker.

Tagawa also scored against St Mirren in midweek and his gaffer said: “It’s really good to see him playing a part now. It’s been tough for him as a new player coming into the club. The wee breaks sometimes make or break you. And he has probably been on the wrong side of quite a lot of them this season. But in the last week he has shown he is starting to get on the right side.

“His movement and anticipation for the goal is why we brought him to the club and then it’s an excellent finish. He can kick on next season. When you have got a 31-goal scorer in the squad it is going to be hard to dislodge him. But overall, every player in this squad has contributed.”

Shankland was superb again for Hearts and produced a brilliant finish to break the deadlock - coolly dinking the ball over Rangers keeper Jack Butland. He’ll now go away with Scotland for Euro 2024 and Naismith hopes he does enough to get into Steve Clarke’s side.

He said: “The three weeks in the training camp is probably the biggest part for Lawrence. But going into it, he can't be in better form.

“He has answered a lot of questions in the last internationals but the next three weeks are important. The manager sets eyes on all the players on the training pitch each day.

"Shanks is in brilliant form, full of confidence. At the start of the season, the question was: 'Does he deserve to be in the squad or not?' Now it's: 'Does he deserve to start?' Credit to him for getting himself in that position.”

Hearts finished the campaign clear in third spot and Naismith is pleased with his debut season in the dug-out. He said: “For my first season as a manager, it’s been really good.

“We are comfortable in third and we got to two cup semi-finals. But it is probably more about the progression of the team.

“From the first game of the season until now we are a much better team. The boys have grown and developed.”