Only Celtic have scored more league goals than Hearts this season. It’s a statistic which puts into context complaints about the paucity of the Tynecastle forward line. Hearts strikers have managed only four goals between them in the current campaign but others are proving adept at picking up the slack.
That point was reinforced today by midfielder Don Cowie ahead of today’s meeting with Motherwell at Tynecastle. The former Scotland internationalist plus team-mates Arnaud Djoum, Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker and Callum Paterson have contributed 17 of the Edinburgh club’s 24 league goals so far. Celtic are way ahead with 35, and next after Hearts on the list is Aberdeen with 22.
There is no doubt everyone at Riccarton is willing forwards like Bjorn Johnsen, Tony Watt, Conor Sammon and Robbie Muirhead to bulge the rigging more often as an intense spell of winter matches begins. However, accusing Hearts of being shot-shy as a team is a glaring inaccuracy. Their last three matches against Inverness, St Johnstone and Hamilton Academical have ended 3-3, 2-2 and 3-3 respectively.
“A lot gets made of our strikers not scoring but to be second-top scorers in the league suggests we are doing something right in the last third,” said Cowie. “If we can keep that going and get back to what we were four games ago – being hard to score against – we won’t be far away.
“I think the season has been a bit stop-start with international breaks and the game against Rangers being postponed because of the League Cup. It’s been hard to get momentum going. We’ve been disappointed conceding goals in the last few games but we’ve shown a lot of character to make sure we didn’t lose.
“I’m not going to hide the fact that this has been a run of games where a club like Hearts goes in expecting and trying to win. To not win any is disappointing.
“On the positive side, we’re showing a good togetherness. We’re going behind in matches and we’re getting back into it late. That shows a lot about our squad but it’s important we start winning games.”
There is an argument that the Hearts defence demands more urgent attention than anything further up the pitch. Ten goals have been shipped in the last four games by a side previously noted for their mean attitude towards opposition forwards.
“Up until the last four games, we had the best defensive record in the league. That shows we’ve got something to work with,” insisted Cowie. “The manner of the goals we’ve lost has been disappointing. It’s not like we’ve been cut open and you have to hold your hands up and admit it’s a great goal. The ones we’re conceding are sloppy.
“That’s something we need to rectify and get back to being really strong at the back. I’ve got every faith that we’ll create chances and score goals every week.”
Despite taking only three points from the last 12, Hearts haven’t lost much ground in the Premiership table. Rangers, Aberdeen and St Johnstone are their challengers for second place and have all dropped points themselves recently. Hearts sit fourth ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, four points behind second-placed Aberdeen and three behind Rangers in third.
“Yes, we haven’t lost ground, but you could look at it the other way. It would’ve been a great opportunity to put a bit of daylight between ourselves and others. A few of us are vying for that second spot so, in that sense, it’s disappointing,” said Cowie, adding that he also wants to improve his own form in midfield.
“You always want to do better but the most important thing for me is I’ve been playing. I’ve only missed the one game, against Motherwell, so that’s been good. Like everyone over the last four games, I know I could’ve done better. We all need to get back to the standards we set prior to that.”
Today’s fixture takes on added significance in light of recent results, with Cowie and his colleagues eager to resume winning form and end the sequence of draws. Their next assignment is just days away – a potentially powderkeg match with Rangers at Tynecastle on Wednesday night.
Rangers’ last trip to Gorgie was in May 2015 when the teams drew 2-2. Hearts received the SPFL Championship trophy that day after securing promotion by a 21-point margin from city rivals Hibs.
The wait for Rangers to return to Tynecastle has been long, although Cowie states that match cannot become a distraction for Hearts with so much at stake against Motherwell this afternoon.
“Rangers is going to be a big game but we just need to concentrate on beating Motherwell. If we get the three points, we get confidence going into a big game on Wednesday,” said Cowie. “They will look at it the same way. It’s a chance for them to put a marker down. We’ve not played each other this season so far. It’ll be a real mouth-watering match.”