Departing Dauda tips Hearts for a title challenge

Abiola Dauda wheels away after capitalising on Dons keeper Adam Collins error
Abiola Dauda wheels away after capitalising on Dons keeper Adam Collins error
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ABIOLA DAUDA insists Hearts possess enough quality to challenge for the Scottish Premiership title next season.

He is only sorry he won’t be around to take part as he is contractually obliged to return to Vitesse Arnhem when his loan ends this month.

The Nigerian striker scored the winning goal against Aberdeen on Thursday night and will bid farewell to Tynecastle following tomorrow’s match with St Johnstone. Although sad to be leaving after four months on loan, he is confident Hearts can mount a serious assault for the league next year.

Champions Celtic will have a new manager in place, Aberdeen will regroup and strengthen, whilst Rangers will hope to challenge after gaining promotion from the Championship. An intense battle is guaranteed, but Dauda stressed Hearts have nothing to be frightened of.

“They have the quality, they have a very good group and probably they will bring one or two players in,” he said. “The team is solid. Last season they won the Championship, this season they are in the Premiership and they will play in Europe. I think it is a big achievement for them.

“They are going in the right direction to keep moving forward and I think they will be great next season. I’m pretty sure they can push on. You never can tell how football can turn and we can all learn from the Leicester story. Celtic might have a very bad season. Maybe Aberdeen will struggle or Rangers might struggle. I think Hearts have the right resources in place to push for the top.”

Dauda feels four months on loan in Scotland has improved his own game. His scoring record is five goals in 14 appearances for Hearts, a decent return for a player who took time to adjust to the frantic nature of football in this country. From his perspective, it has been a very worthwhile adventure.

“I came here to play and I’ve played. If I stayed at Vitesse, I don’t think I would have played as much as I have here. That’s the reason I came here,” he explained. “I’m happy the club wanted me to come and play and I’m happy I have made a contribution in my short time here. It’s a very positive thing for me because I’ve learned a lot. Scottish football is not the same as Dutch football.

“I’ve learned that football can’t always be beautiful. You have to fight. I’m still under contract at Vitesse for one more year. I’ll be going back at the end of the season once I finish here. I’ll have a holiday and then start the new season with Vitesse.”

Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has already declared there is no chance of converting Dauda’s loan into a permanent transfer. Vitesse paid 500,000 Euros to sign the player from Red Star Belgrade two years ago and would want to recoup some of that outlay. His salary would be a further stumbling block. “I’ve enjoyed my time here but it’s not in my hands. It would take a lot of things to be in place for me to stay. I’ve enjoyed my four months here and I wish the club the best of luck in the future,” said Dauda.

“St Johnstone will be my last game. The Hearts fans have been very supportive and also they have been very harsh in a way, but that’s normal. It’s football. Hearts is a big club but the fans are not like they were in Belgrade. They are normal. They live for the team and that’s why they are supporters.

“I came here from Holland and I have to adapt. In the first few weeks I didn’t know what to expect. I watched from the sideline and I could see what was happening and I think I’ve adapted really well.”

Dauda is expected to start tomorrow’s match as Hearts bring the season down on a successful first year back in the Premiership. Jack Hamilton will continue in goal after a commanding display and clean sheet at Pittodrie. A first-team debut for teenage winger Lewis Moore remains a possibility. He is likely to start amongst the substitutes.