Tony Watt’s Hearts performances drew praise today from head coach Robbie Neilson, who admitted the striker has yet to hit peak form.
The Edinburgh club are not scoring enough goals but Neilson stressed he is pleased with Watt’s contribution.
Hearts visit Inverness this afternoon seeking to recover from Wednesday night’s 2-0 defeat at Kilmarnock. Neilson conceded that none of his forwards are performing at optimum levels and is considering whether Bjorn Johnsen and Conor Sammon should play from the start in the Highlands.
Asked about Watt, pictured below, he insisted the on-loan Charlton Athletic player has more to offer after one goal in 11 appearances to date.
“I think all the strikers have still to reach top form because that is reflected in the goals they score and the goals they create. With Tony, you can see in training the ability he has got. He is probably one of the best technical players we have got here,” said Neilson. “Tony is a top player. That’s the reason we brought him here, it’s the reason he has been in the Scotland set up and has had a good career so far. It’s the same for everyone. People go through sticky patches so it’s important that we try to stay focused and try to keep them confident and get them into the right areas.
“If players aren’t confident then they don’t get into these areas and make the runs into the box, they try to stay out of the way. The players are confident and, yes, they would like to score more goals but they are quality players and those goals will come.”
Watt’s tendency to drop deep and run with the ball well outside the penalty area is something Hearts feel can help create scoring chances. “When Tony came in I looked at the system and changed it a bit to try to get the best out of him. He does have that freedom to go and play,” explained Neilson.
“If you get Tony, Jamie Walker and Arnaud Djoum on the ball in attacking areas, it causes teams problems. That’s why we play the way we do and, in my opinion, it has been going well. Yes, we have not scored as many goals as we would’ve liked but we have been picking up the points we have been hoping to pick up.”
Neilson warned Hearts to expect the same energy and aggression from Inverness as Kilmarnock showed in midweek. “I think Inverness will be 100 per cent the same. We played them here at the start of the season and they were very open and expansive. We played football, so did they, and we were the better team – so we won the game. We need to go up there and compete.
“We are good enough to play our way around teams. It’s something we talk about and we need to be more adaptable in the game. When you play against certain teams, you need to play a certain way.Sometimes it’s not the way you would prefer but you need to do it.”
The head coach added that Hearts will keep faith with their methods despite Wednesday’s disappointment.
“The guys have been doing great. We had the opportunity on Wednesday to go second in the league. We had an opportunity three minutes into the game where we should score. If we score that, we’re sitting here having won the game because, percentage-wise, if you score the first goal in Scotland, eight times out of ten you’re going to win the game.
“That small detail changes the whole mentality of it. Everyone looking from outside goes: ‘You’ve not scored, you’re sitting in fourth place.’ But that could have changed it. My job is to try and look at it from a different perspective and say: ‘Right, we’re doing well, we’re playing well, we’re creating chances, keep going in the right direction’.”