Bullish Dale Carrick is determined to fight off increased competition for places and re-establish himself as the focal point of Hearts’ attack this season.
After spending the first half of last term bulking up in the gym, the 20-year-old emerged as the Tynecastle side’s most prominent central striker under previous manager Gary Locke in the second half of the campaign.
However, the summer recruitment of attacking duo James Keatings and Soufian El Hassnaoui, allied to the fact that new head coach Robbie Neilson views David Smith as an option to play through the middle, means Carrick can no longer be deemed a guaranteed starter.
Nonetheless, the youngster, still buoyant after his six-goal haul in the closing months of last season, is confident he can prove to Neilson that he should be in the starting XI for the Championship opener away to Rangers in five weeks time.
“There are lots of options up front now but my target for this pre-season is to make sure I’m in the team for the first league game at Ibrox,” he told the Evening News.
“I had to work hard to prove myself last season and it’ll be the same again this season. It’s a new start and I’ll have to prove myself to Robbie. I just need to keep building bits of my game and hopefully the new guys coming in will help push me on. Extra competition makes you a better player so I’m looking forward to challenging the new boys that have come in.”
Carrick is hoping to build on the promise he showed towards the end of last term, when he was key to his team’s rampant finish to the campaign. “I’m hoping to get more than the six goals I got last season,” he said. “It was a reasonable return considering I only really played in the second half of the season but I’m hoping to kick on from there. After the way last season ended for me, I’m on a high and really enjoying my football at the moment. It’s just about making sure I impress the new management now.”
Carrick played the second half of Thursday night’s 2-0 friendly defeat to Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad in Leigh Sports Village and he hopes to step up his match fitness further tomorrow when his side face Dinamo Bucharest a year after they were beaten 5-1 by the Romanian side.
“The game on Thursday showed that we’re a bit behind what they are in terms of fitness,” he said. “They were a really good side but we held our own against them for most of the game. Their extra fitness took over ours in the end and they got the two goals. You could tell that they’d done a bit more than us.
“It’ll be another hard game against Bucharest, but it’s all about getting more match fitness. I got some of the game last summer, but we’ll be hoping to do better against them this time. We’ve got a new group of boys so hopefully we can get a better result.”
Meanwhile, Scott Robinson is waiting to learn if he will face a suspension in the wake of his dismissal against Ludogorets following two bookable offences. Because it was not under their jurisidiction, the SFA have no power to take any action unless the English match officials from Thursday’s friendly decide to report the midfielder’s offence directly to them. Early indications are that that will not happen, but an SFA spokesperson said it would only become certain midway through next week whether or not Robinson will face any further sanction.