ARVYDAS NOVIKOVAS senses a chance to kill two birds with one penetrative stone this weekend.
If Hearts defeat Aberdeen, a top-six place in the Scottish Premier League is secure. Fringe players like Novikovas can then anticipate more game time through to the end of the campaign. It’s a win-win situation for the Lithuanian.
Paulo Sergio, the Hearts manager, plans to enlist younger players once top-six status is safe, thereby readying them for permanent promotion after the summer. Novikovas is one of those eager to impress having started only six matches in what he admits has been a “bad season” personally.
The winger spent the entire campaign on the periphery of Sergio’s squad and is less than happy with his lot. Fleeting substitute appearances and the odd cameo role are no good to a talented 21-year-old with a burgeoning international career to consider. He needs to play.
Last Saturday in Perth witnessed his first league start of 2012 and he is hopeful of retaining his place against Aberdeen. Perhaps of greater importance will be subsequent league fixtures which could determine whether he can establish himself in next year’s team. With squad changes likely to be extensive over the summer, this is an ideal juncture for any young Hearts player to showcase his talent and make a lasting impression.
“I would like to get more opportunities,” said Novikovas, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “I think I did well in the St Johnstone game, I worked hard defensively and I hope I get more chances. I don’t know if I will play against Aberdeen, but if we secure a top-six place I think I will get a chance after that.
“If we win against Aberdeen, we secure sixth place. Then it’s going to be easier for the manager. I think he’s going to give chances to the young players and the main players are going to rest for the Scottish Cup semi-final. That can only be good. It’s good to be in the top six because, if you end up in the bottom six, the quality is not the same. This is our main aim now.
“There are still games left and we have chances to show ourselves all the time. If I play in the last few games of this season and I do well, then it shows what I can do for next season. It will show that I’m ready.”
If he cannot impose himself, Novikovas will consider leaving Tynecastle to further his career elsewhere. It’s not a prospect that excites him but he remains realistic about the future. “It’s not been a good season for me because I’m young and I need to play. I need to get experience,” he continued.
“It’s good that I still have my place in the Lithuanian national team, or even the under-21s. I know that I can go there and play matches. I haven’t played much this season for Hearts because of injuries and other problems. It’s been a bad season for me.
“Everyone is frustrated when they don’t play but it’s part of football. It happens like that all the time. One week you can be on the bench, the next you can be in the stand. You must understand but it is hard. It’s harder when you are a young player but it helps when you have some players with experience who can explain everything to you. That makes it feel okay.
“David Templeton is out injured just now so it’s a little bit easier for me to play. But that doesn’t matter, really. I work hard in training and I have to believe I will get a chance. The manager has spoken to me and he tries to help me all the time. Next season I need to be ready and show what I can do.” Novikovas does tend to burst into life when Aberdeen come to town. Of his three competitive Hearts goals, two were scored against the Pittodrie club at Tynecastle. “I’ve been told about my record against Aberdeen. It would be good to score against them again since I’ve already scored twice. Probably they are my team,” he laughed.
“I’m not sure if the manager knows this. I haven’t told him, maybe I will get someone else to tell him.”
Adding to the omens this weekend is a remarkable statistic showing Aberdeen have not scored a goal in any fixture against Hearts in over two years.
Derek Young’s strike in Aberdeen’s 3-0 win at Tynecastle in January 2010 – which proved to be Csaba Laszlo’s final match in charge of Hearts – was the last conceded by the Edinburgh club against their north-eastern counterparts.
History is with the hosts this weekend. Novikovas has his own decorated past when it comes to matches against Aberdeen, but he is pre-occupied with the future.