Bjorn Johnsen admits new striker is vital for Hearts

Bjorn Johnsen is now the first choice striker for Hearts but admits he missed his share of chances against Raith Rovers
Bjorn Johnsen is now the first choice striker for Hearts but admits he missed his share of chances against Raith Rovers
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Bjorn Johnsen openly admits a new striker is essential for Hearts before the transfer window closes on Tuesday night.

Head coach Ian Cathro is seeking a predatory-type forward with the mobility to run into space and get opposition defenders turning. That type of player may be the ideal foil for 6ft 5in Johnsen.

Johnsen enjoyed playing alongside Rory Currie, right, who scored against Raith

Johnsen enjoyed playing alongside Rory Currie, right, who scored against Raith

Portuguese striker Esmael Goncalves could be his partner in attack as Hearts negotiate his transfer from Cypriot club Anorthosis Famagusta. Having signed three defenders and a midfielder so far in January, a striker is now top of the agenda.

Whether Goncalves arrives before Sunday’s league trip to Celtic Park remains to be seen. Johnsen has scored six times in his past 15 Hearts appearances and is now the first-choice striker ahead of Conor Sammon and teenager Rory Currie. Tony Watt and Juanma Delgado have departed and Johnsen would welcome competition from someone offering an alternative type of attacking threat.

“It’s not just competition. We need a little bit of a spark, we need someone else, someone different,” he told the Evening News. “We all want that to happen. I’m not afraid of working for my place. I had to do that when I first got here in the summer.

“We’ll take a new signing with open arms because we need someone. As you can see, we’re down on numbers. A couple of guys are at the Africa Cup of Nations and we need all the numbers we can get. Hopefully we get a good signing in.”

Currie scored his first senior goal on his first start in Wednesday night’s Scottish Cup replay win over Raith Rovers. However, at 18, he cannot be expected to shoulder the responsibility of being a first-team regular. His natural attributes are what Hearts must find in any new recruit, according to Johnsen.

“It’s kind of like what Rory did on Wednesday. Rory needs to be moulded because he’s younger, but for me it’s someone like Rory. Maybe someone a little bit stronger who is ready for the Scottish game. Rory can play against some teams and get some minutes but we need someone else like that who can run in behind, get the opportunities and score.

“As you saw on Wednesday, I missed a lot of chances. Hopefully we can get somebody who comes into the box and pops one in from the six-yard box – a real goal-getter.”

Cathro, his assistant Austin MacPhee and director of football Craig Levein, are endeavouring to augment Hearts’ attacking options before midnight on Tuesday night. “I think everyone is working really hard at the moment but it’s difficult in January,” said Johnsen. “We’ve let a lot of people go so we’re trying to push our way through these games and hopefully get a signing in. It has to be the right person as well.

“All the players who have come in – Malo [Martin], Andraz Struna, Lennard Sowah and Aaron Hughes – have done well. So we’re getting the right signings in, we just need to get everyone gelled as quickly as possible. We’ve got the right players and the right coaches in and we’re playing the right football. It’s just hard on these pitches right now after the winter.”

It won’t get any easier in Glasgow’s east end. Celtic are out to surpass Jock Stein’s 50-year record of 26 domestic matches without defeat and will do so if they draw or win against Hearts. Young Currie may again be asked to play a key role in the most intimidating of venues, but Johnsen would have no fear about that scenario.

“Of course not. I think it might be a spectacle for the first five minutes for him because it’ll be something new,” he laughed. “I’ll try to help him along the way because we’re partners. If the gaffer wants to play him along with me, I’ll be happy. I have no problem giving him the ball.

“We have a lot of confidence in him. When he comes on the training pitch with us, he’s a really good player. He just needs a little bit of time to play but he’s a very good player for his age. The opportunity came for him to score against Raith and I didn’t think twice about passing him the ball. We have that confidence in him and he showed it when he scored. He took it well and he’s taken all the accolades well, so he’ll be fine.”

Johnsen is especially eager to get to Parkhead having watched from the stand in August when Celtic visited Tynecastle. His transfer from Bulgaria wasn’t ratified by FIFA at the time but now he is very much a pivotal figure for Hearts.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I didn’t get to play in the first game against Celtic, although I was here to watch. We we’re very unfortunate that day but Parkhead is something else. At Ibrox, I was frustrated because we didn’t play well and we’d just got a new gaffer. I think we’re more prepared now. We’ll come in with a better gameplan and try to end Celtic’s unbeaten streak. We’ll take a draw or we’ll take a win. We’re going there to try to win.”

Beating Raith, albeit after extra-time, has lifted confidence levels. Thoughts of meeting Hibs in the next round must be put to the back of players’ minds for the moment.

“It’s really satisfying because we’ve had a couple of games not go our way – games we needed to fight for and not use our tactics. Right now, we have the tactics right so it’s about trying to fight and push yourself through these matches.

“Wednesday was a big reward for us and we were celebrating inside after reaching the next round. Hopefully we’ll play well against Hibs too, but first we’ll talk about Celtic on Sunday.

“We have Celtic, Rangers and Motherwell before Hibs. Those four games are really hard so I think we needed that win on Wednesday to keep us going in the right direction. It was a big boost for everyone.”

The next few weeks could be defining. The perfect time to bring in a new striker.