Michael Smith sets splitting Rangers and Celtic target as Hearts star sets lofty goals after penning new deal

By Fraser Wilson

Michael Smith is hellbent on driving Hearts in between the Old Firm this season after bypassing a contract clause to sign a new deal until 2023 at Tynecastle.

The Northern Ireland international has followed Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett and Stephen Kinglsey in pledging his future to the Jambos - and insists second place is not beyond Robbie Neilson ’s men.

Smith is one of the longest serving stars in Gorgie having made 158 appearances since signing in 2017 and has seen the ups and downs having been relegated in the covid-curtailed season two years ago.

But he’s been a key man in Hearts’ Premiership resurgence which sees them sit clear in third spot and nine points off Celtic in second ahead of the top flight restart.

With 21 appearances under his belt this season, the 33-year-old was handed a new deal by sporting director Joe savage despite being a few games short of a clause which would have activated an automatic extra year.

And he said: “It was easy to say yes. The gaffer called me up to talk about it and it was done really quickly.

“I had the clause in my contract and I was nearly there so me and the gaffer agreed that I’d get the other year anyway.

“We’re building something special here and I want to be a part of it.

“Hearts are a massive club and we should be in Europe. Hopefully we can stay in third place or even kick on and push for the top two.

“I’d love to get the club into Europe and challenge for top three every year. Just back where the club should be.

“We’ve had a few up and down years and it’s good to get some stability back and under the gaffer, Joe and the coaches we are starting to build that.”

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Smith has won 19 caps for his country, the vast majority in his time as a Jambo.

But it’s with club that he is determined to make a push on the continent.

And he has no doubt Neilson and Savage have built a squad capable of getting there after the misery of a season in the Championship.

He told HeartsTV : “At times it’s been tough. We were unfairly relegated and we did great to get straight back up.

“We are doing so well this year and want to continue that.

“We’re building a great squad. We’re building something special.

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“It’s definitely the best squad I’ve been involved in.

“I think we’ve brought in wisely, good quality and not just numbers.

“Everyone plays their part. It must be tough for the gaffer to make decisions on who plays but I suppose that’s a good thing and is why we’re doing so well.

“Ever since I came up, I’ve probably played my best football. It’s got me into the international squad.

"I’m settled here with the family, it was an easy decision for me.

“When I first signed I probably couldn’t have imagined being here this long. I’ve said plenty of times that when I came up and saw the city and the stadium, it was an easy decision to make then.

“It’s been a good fit for me. I enjoy it here and I love everything about it.”

Smith has played in the backline and at wing back so far this season and Jambos boss Neilson says that versatility makes him a key man in his squad.

Neilson said: “I’m really pleased that we’ve got Michael tied down for another season.

“He’s a top player, an international-standard defender and his versatility makes him a tremendous asset for us.”

Sporting director Savage added: “Michael’s one of the longest-serving players in the squad for a reason; he’s a really talented and versatile player and a model professional.

“The fans have really taken to him over the past five years and for any young player coming through our youth system, Michael is someone they should look up to.”


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