IT’S becoming hard to overstate Arnaud Djoum’s importance to Hearts. With winter firmly in place, the Cameroonian midfielder is fast becoming warming presence around Tynecastle. A talisman, even.
He scored his third goal in six appearances in maroon on Saturday and celebrated as “Boom! Shake the Room” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince blasted out through Tynecastle’s PA system. Djoum certainly has shaken the room - an entire stadium, in fact - since arriving in Scotland in September on a deal until January.
He could only curse Rory Loy’s equaliser for Dundee along with his team-mates. Dundee merited their point after a gritty second half but a draw denied Hearts the chance to close in on Premiership leaders Celtic, who were held to a 0-0 stalemate at home to Kilmarnock.
Djoum’s contract expires in just a few weeks and Hearts are close to securing his signature long-term. After another goal and another commanding display, Craig Levein would be advised to march the player to the boardroom with pen in hand today. Getting this guy signed up must be the priority above all others for Hearts officials.
The 26-year-old converted a perfect header from Callum Paterson’s precise cross to put the hosts 1-0 up after 23 minutes. Dundee’s rapid improvement in the second half brought them a deserved equaliser and they could perhaps have left Edinburgh with full points. It was one of those afternoons when Hearts started strongly but failed to maximise their control with more goals and ultimately paid the price.
Djoum’s performance was the biggest positive. “I think that’s the first time this has happened to me [scoring three goals in six]. Maybe in Holland, one time I scored three or four times like this,” said the midfielder. “It’s a long time but I’m very happy to be scoring goals. At Tynecastle, it’s a very good feeling when you score in front of your fans. It’s just the result was not good enough.
“We are really disappointed. We have to win these kind of home games because it’s important, in front of our fans, to play well and win our games. I’m happy to score but I would prefer to win this game. Normally we have the qualities to win these games.”
The pre-match minute’s silence was especially poignant for Djoum, who grew up in Belgium and holds a Belgian passport. The recent terror attacks on Paris and their links to his home country have hit him hard.
“It’s hard times because I have family in Belgium. My parents are living not far away from these people. I always think about them because you never know what can happen. I hope it will be better soon. It’s difficult to concentrate on football because your family is everything and you think about them.
“I grew up in Brussels and this sort of thing was never a problem, but now it’s really hard. I’m thinking about family and friends. The people there are really scared.”
After a first half in which Hearts looked more than comfortable, Dundee showed why they finished as a top-six team last season. Loy, Kane Hemmings, Greg Stewart and Julen Etxabeguren all stood out for the Dens Park club. Their equaliser arrived from Stewart’s through ball to Loy, who was played onside by Juwon Oshaniwa - preferred at left-back with Jordan McGhee demoted to the substitutes’ bench.
Hearts weren’t short of competent individuals but perhaps proved why, collectively, they are not quite ready to challenge Celtic just yet. “We started well and went a goal up. We had a lot of chances and then it went flat,” said head coach Robbie Neilson. “It was as if we just expected to get another goal quite easily. It didn’t happen. The game went flat and nobody really had any control. I’m disappointed because we should be picking up three points.
“We lost Billy King through injury and he gives you width but we should still have enough to win the game. We were still looking for a second goal and that’s why we put Gavin [Reilly] on. We went 4-4-2 to go and chase it and try to kill the game off. We just weren’t at it.
“People are saying we are going to go and challenge and this and that. If you want to challenge for the league, you need to win games like that. We aren’t winning them. We’re not ready to win them consistently. Hopefully we can build a team that can do it but it takes time to do that. It takes time to adapt to football in Scotland and it takes younger players time to grow.
“That’s the difference. On our day, we can compete with anybody. Over the course of a season, that’s the difficult one. We could’ve caught up with Celtic but that’s not the target just now. The target is to try and get near Aberdeen over the season.”
Dundee manager Paul Hartley was back at Tynecastle for the first time as manager having been a darling of the Hearts fans as a player. He knew his team had earned a very useful point as they remain in mid-table.
“Tynecastle is a tough venue to come to. That’s the first goal Hearts have lost in five games,” he said. “I didn’t think we were ever out of the game and in the second half I thought we were by far the better team. I thought we were really good and well organised defensively and we scored a terrific goal through Loy.
“We have a front three that will cause anybody problems. It shows you how far we’ve come as a group. James McPake and Julen were excellent, as was the whole back four. We showed a little bit of grit. James McPake had a bug all week and felt low in energy so had to come off. Julen took a knock so we had to take both centre-backs off.
“That’s unusual but our players showed what they can do. This is a tough league and we’re doing okay.”