Focus on Hearts’ strikers intensifies with each passing game. Tony Watt, Bjorn Johnsen, Conor Sammon and Robbie Muirhead have managed four domestic goals between them this season. John Robertson, even at 52 and recovering from broken ribs and a punctured lung, would probably fancy his chances of bettering that tally by himself.
Robbo’s fall at Tynecastle last month means he is still on the injured list, so Hearts coach Robbie Neilson has little choice but to continue with those at his disposal. Juanma Delgado remains on loan at UCAM Murcia in Spain – where he has scored three times in 13 appearances – but Neilson feels he has better forwards based here in Edinburgh.
Johnsen is one offering some encouragement. The giant American has found the net twice in four starts and is still adjusting to Scottish football. His other seven appearances in maroon have come as a substitute. His gangly style belies a good turn of pace added to the aerial ability of someone 6ft 5ins tall.
The lack of goals from strikers has been discussed in the Riccarton dressing room, where right-back Callum Paterson is making the most of the fact his seven-goal total means he has outscored the entire forward line. Johnsen acknowledges that it is now a burning issue which must be addressed given Hearts have won only two of their last eight matches.
“We weren’t that concerned about it until we stopped winning games. When we’re not winning games and strikers aren’t scoring, then there’s a problem,” Johnsen told the Evening News. “It wasn’t really a big problem beforehand. Now it’s coming to a point where we need to get results, so we need to start scoring and showing our worth.
“We’re all pushing as hard as we can to get into the team. That competition is good. We need to help each other out at the moment. We haven’t found the right combination yet but that takes time. It’s normal. I’m getting used to playing with Tony, with Muirhead and with Conor. If I’m helping one of them score, they can help me score.
“In the last game against Hamilton, I wanted to score. I had a diving header and a couple of other opportunities to score and I didn’t. There was a great save and one went over the crossbar. I’m pretty frustrated at not getting a goal because maybe it would’ve changed the game. You always second-guess yourself after a game. You can’t sleep and all that stuff.”
Johnsen feels he is making progress having had to wait until mid-August for FIFA to approve his transfer to Hearts from the Bulgarian club Litex Lovech. His recent performances support that theory. Tellingly, he doesn’t consider himself an out-and-out goalscorer or the type of player to lead the forward line.
“I’m getting there. I’m getting towards the standard I want but I’m still not there yet,” he continued. “It’s getting me a place in the team at the moment so I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity. People get to see me and understand what kind of player I am.
“I see myself as someone who supports the other striker. I’m not the fastest guy on the field but I’m not the slowest either. I like providing for other players, as you saw in the game at Hamilton [his cross led to the first goal int he 3-3 draw]. I would rather have two assists and a goal than two goals and an assist. That all takes time and as you can see it’s coming out on the field now.
“I’m playing well right now so I just need to continue that and the goals will come. It’s really hard to tell yourself: ‘It’s okay, just continue.’ You don’t change the way you play, you just continue the way you’ve always been playing and the goals will come. Even if the ball bounces, hits off your face and goes in. You just need to be in the right position.”
Keeping the faith is something every Hearts player must be trying right now. Whilst they have only won twice in the last eight, they have also only lost twice. Draws against traditionally smaller clubs – Ross County, Inverness, St Johnstone and Hamilton – are seriously undermining aspirations of claiming second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Since Monday’s draw in Lanarkshire, time has been spent pondering a whole range of team-related issues.
“You always have to perfect things,” explained Johnsen. “At the moment, we’re trying to figure out what are our strengths and what are our weaknesses. So many different teams are giving us problems right now, teams that we shouldn’t be having problems with.
“It’s not because of what we’re doing, it’s because of what they’re doing to us. I think it’s about getting used to their style of play and having to ride it out to get through this stretch. A stretch like this is hard to get out of.
“The same thing happened last year. Hearts won five games in a row at the start of the season then they had a little period without a win. We can’t expect to win every game, we expect to take points from games. Aberdeen lost at Hamilton so we’re pretty happy getting a point there on Monday. What else can be do but come back from behind and get a draw?
“People can’t doubt our character any more because it’s not the first time that’s happened this season. It’s probably the third or fourth. People should understand that we aren’t players who just hang about and pass the ball around. We’re trying to give 100 per cent every day. It’s not getting results at the moment but I think that will come in time.”
Tomorrow begins a three-game period inside a week which sees Hearts face Motherwell and Rangers at home before a trip to Dingwall to meet Ross County. Potentially, it could prove pivotal to the outcome of their season. Johnsen is eager for everyone concerned to seize the moment.
“We have to realise that this is a very important moment for us,” he said. “We can change things round because we have Rangers next week as well. We have to focus on Motherwell, win that game and bring that into next week.
“Right now, people are looking too far forward to the other games towards Christmas. We really need to start focusing on our ‘now’. This ‘now’ will pass really quickly if we don’t.”
Hearts are fourth in the league table ahead of the weekend fixtures. They trail second-placed Aberdeen by four points and Rangers by three. The notion within the Tynecastle camp is that they possess both the players and resources to be sitting in that second spot behind leaders Celtic. Johnsen is honest enough to admit his club’s results don’t warrant such a placing at the moment.
“We feel we should be there but we also need to merit that by winning games. We need the results to show this, we can’t keep talking any more. We need to get the results to show everybody that we’re no joke.”