BJORN JOHNSEN selects his words carefully but isn’t afraid to speak his mind. After two months in Scotland, he feels qualified to fire a warning to the rest of the country that they should take Hearts’ challenge more seriously.
The American striker reckons some people outwith Edinburgh may be guilty of underestimating his new team-mates. Despite the disappointment of last week’s 1-0 loss at St Johnstone, they remain second in the still-embryonic Ladbrokes Premiership table. Tomorrow, they face Ross County at home, a side who have never won at Tynecastle.
Johnsen has detected a combination of mental strength, belief and talent within the dressing-room which he believes will serve Hearts well. He came to Scotland from Bulgaria to win medals and, eventually, progress to a higher level. He is enchanted by what he has walked into at Riccarton.
“We were on a roll before the St Johnstone game. Obviously they have something on us that we don’t know about. We don’t know how they beat us every time,” he laughed.
“I think this roll will continue for the rest of the season. I think people will be shocked at how we do. Don’t sleep on us, that’s what I think. People who are not from Edinburgh might sleep on Hearts a little. I think we’re a bigger threat than a lot of people think we are.
“This season looks really intriguing. I think the league is on a high and I think Hearts are on a high at the right moment. When I got here, I wanted to win something. That’s my target right now, whether it’s a silver medal or a gold medal. It doesn’t matter. I think we have a chance to do something with this team.”
The 24-year-old acknowledges that he is still seeking consistency within his own game. He will address that first and foremost before engaging in too much thought about medals. His first start for Hearts came at McDiarmid Park after a month-long wait for FIFA to clear his transfer and then another month spent on the substitutes’ bench.
“I’m playing one game, [Conor] Sammon’s playing another game, Tony [Watt] is playing. Things are changing so much so I’m just working my way into the team. I want to play on a consistent basis,” said Johnsen. “When I take my consistency to a higher level, the playing time will come. I’m not really worried about that right now.
“The main thing is getting used to the style of play in Scotland and England. That’s why I came here, to get myself prepared for the bigger steps. The first couple of weeks were hectic because the game never stops here. Your mind has to be working really fast.
“For example, the pass to Sam [the backheeled assist against Inverness]. That has to be the norm and I have to be consistent. I think I’m getting used to it. I didn’t play too badly last week but we lost. I’m my worst critic. My dad criticises me but not like I criticise myself. You feel you played badly then someone tells you that you played well.
“If you’ve played in the league for a year, you know all the players. You know what this one does or doesn’t do, you know what he likes and what he doesn’t like, who I can run at or not run at, who to stay away from or who to play up against. As an attacker, I need to know who I’m going up against.”
Robbie Neilson, the Hearts head coach, has clearly still to decide on his best attacking combination. Of Hearts’ 13 domestic goals to date this season, only two have come from forwards. Watt and Sammon have one each, with midfielders, wingers and defenders chipping in to good effect.
“I think it’s the way we play at the moment. Everyone gets forward, not just one person,” explained Johnsen. “The main contributor for linking up the play is a striker, but the guy who gets the final touch is mostly a midfielder.
“We have guys at the back who can come up and score at a corner-kick at any time in the game. You see Callum [Paterson], he’s a complete monster. Goals will come from the strikers – from me, from Sammon and from Tony.
“The season is long. Midfielders score a lot but not as much as strikers. It doesn’t matter to any of us who scores the goals right now. Us strikers want to score more but we aren’t really stressing about it. We were on a good roll and I think we still are.”
Tomorrow would be an ideal juncture for Johnsen to break his scoring duck in maroon. So far, he has offered hints of a technically-sound player with pace, who can also use his 6ft 5in frame to good effect. Supporters are eager to see him playing at full capacity.
It remains to be seen whether he retains his starting place or whether Sammon will resume his partnership with Watt up front in a game that is anything but straightforward for Hearts.
“It’s a very dangerous game for us because Ross County just got a 0-0 draw with Rangers and will be on a high,” noted Johnsen. “They will want to change history at Tynecastle as well. We played well at St Johnstone so I don’t think we should change too much. The final touch in front of goal is maybe the thing that stopped us last week but I think tomorrow will be an exciting game and everyone is looking forward to it.”