ANDY DRIVER admits he faces a fight to regain a place in the Hearts team after being told by manager John McGlynn that he is not showing enough consistency.
The winger was relegated to the substitutes’ bench for the third time this season as Hearts comprehensively beat Dundee United on Saturday and conceded he can offer no complaints about the decision.
As Hearts prepare to host Livingston in the League Cup third round at Tynecastle tonight, Driver is confident of persuading McGlynn to reinstate him, but acknowledged that his performances must improve. In fact, he feels being left out will provide the necessary motivation for him to recapture top form.
Discussions between manager and player have been cordial, though Driver has been left in no doubt about McGlynn’s expectations. “The manager has spoken to me. I’ve had words with him and I know exactly the position I’m in,” said the 24-year-old. “When we spoke, everything he said is totally true. I can’t disagree with anything. It’s fair enough if you’re playing well and you feel it’s harsh if you’re left out. But, with the way I’ve been playing, he’s within his rights. It’s up to me to prove that I want to play.
“I’ve known the manager a long time and he is honest with me. He can tell me if I’ve not been right. He’s said he isn’t angry with me or disappointed, just that I’ve not been my old self. It’s not the words you want to hear but it sets you a challenge and makes you want to put it right. You need to meet challenges and get over them in football. That’s what I’ve got to do now.
“Everyone can see for themselves. I think there have been flashes here and there, I just haven’t been consistent enough. I’m still confident in my own ability. I know I can get there. Maybe getting left out of the team in the next few weeks will give me that extra kick up the a*** to go and do it. I showed in the Scottish Cup final I can get back to that level. It’s just about doing it consistently now.
“I’m still playing and training. I haven’t missed a training session since day one of pre-season, which is good for me. I just need to transfer it into games and get my confidence back. Perhaps I’ve been a bit low on confidence and I need to get it back.
“I don’t think I’m as fit as I can be. I still feel I can improve. After the injury, there are little parts of the game that I can improve on, like my pace. I can feel that coming back as I go along. Things like that breed confidence. Your confidence will get low if you are trying things you used to be able to do and they aren’t coming off.”
Arvydas Novikovas’ performance at Tannadice indicated that the Lithuanian may, finally, be ready to realise his potential after several seasons on the periphery of the Hearts squad. That would provide further competition for Driver, who is now in the final year of his Tynecastle contract.
“Of course that’s on my mind. It would be naive to say it isn’t,” he continued. “This is a big year and the way football is going at the moment you need to be on top of your game. There are a lot of players out there struggling to find a team, so it’s a massive year for me. It is early in the season but I need to get going.
“Arvy has been playing very well in the team recently so I’ve got to raise my level to get ahead of him now. Working hard is the only thing you can do. I’ve been in this situation before at Hearts and only hard work can get you where you want to be. I’ve not been playing as well as I can do and you’ve got to understand that’s why you aren’t in the team. There’s only one way to turn it round, that’s by getting your head down. Football is like that – you have to take the rough with the smooth. I haven’t been going great this season but it’s still early and I’ve got a lot of time to sort it out.”
Tonight’s match sees the return of a winger who tried to emulate Driver at Hearts. Jordan Morton is looking to cause an upset with Livingston. The 20-year-old left Tynecastle in the summer to move to Almondvale and, along with striker Marc McNulty, has the potential to cause problems.
“He’s a former Hearts player and I’m sure, if he’s playing, Jordan will want to do well against Hearts and prove a point,” said McGlynn. “I’d imagine he’ll be well up for it. Livingston have a few players who can cause problems and we’ll need to match their work ethic and desire. Marc McNulty scored a hat-trick against Raith Rovers last season and he is a very good striker. There’s no doubt he would attract attention from some clubs.”
Hearts will send out their strongest possible side against a First Division club which is managed by the former Hibs pair, John Hughes and John Collins. “I would imagine the Hearts fans will give them a good reception,” smiled McGlynn. “That’s part and parcel of football and I’m sure Yogi will enjoy that. It’s a red rag to a bull kind of situation, although I’m sure Livingston will be up for the game anyway. We need to make sure we’re also up for it.
“I think it shows respect to your opponents when you name a strong team. Sometimes, when you don’t put a strong team out, the opposition can use that as motivation. ‘Look at these Billy Big Times, putting out a reserve team, they think they can beat us’. That’s the reaction you can get and it can backfire on you. I think it’s already backfired on some teams this season. We are focusing on getting through to the quarter-finals of the tournament.”