First impressions of Genero Zeefuik are very encouraging. Driving snow and sleet plus freezing and swirling gales turned the wide open Bet Butler Stadium into a horrible, icy cauldron on Saturday.
Many foreigners wouldn’t have fancied it at all. Zeefuik, who joined Hearts on loan from FC Groningen on Thursday, showed appetite and ability in equal measure to claim two debut goals.
He wasn’t perturbed in the slightest about the arctic conditions. After spending months in the Groningen reserves, the Dutch striker was simply grateful for the chance of competitive first-team football. The standout feature of his performance was not his finishing, however. His intelligent link-up play helped involve others around him and resulted in wingers Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker also thriving.
Hearts would probably prefer Zeefuik to slim down slightly as he is indeed an odd shape for a footballer. Christian Nade is the obvious comparison, but Zeefuik is a more polished forward who seems willing to apply himself better than Nade did at Tynecastle. He has a fine first touch, likes to link up and possesses a vicious shot, as the Dumbarton goalkeeper Danny Rogers can now testify.
Hearts gave the 24-year-old the chance of a hat-trick when Walker earned a second-half penalty. Rogers, though, saved the spot-kick low to his right and blocked Zeefuik’s rebound effort. Nicholson scored twice and Walker once, with the latter also contributing three assists in a convincing 5-1 win over Ian Murray’s part-time side. Still, visiting fans at Dumbarton were talking and singing about Zeefuik more than anyone.
Chants of “feed the beast, he must score” and “you’re just a good Christian Nade” added some colourful moments during the second half.
“We brought Genero in during the week and I thought he was fantastic,” said head coach Robbie Neilson. “He gives us that link that allows Keatings, Nicholson, Walker, King and guys like that to play off him.
“I was delighted for him getting his goals. He had a difficult time at Groningen last year and at the start of this season. He wasn’t involved and kind of lost his focus. Now he’s got a focus on playing every Saturday so he can get himself ready and get himself fit. He’ll hopefully be a big asset from now until the end of the season.”
It would be wrong to assume Hearts simply overpowered Dumbarton on their way to a 20th league game without defeat. In fact, they were slightly fortunate to be 2-0 ahead after an even first half in which the hosts struck Neil Alexander’s crossbar twice. The visiting goalkeeper also saved bravely at Mark Gilhaney’s feet before Archie Campbell’s shot from the resultant loose ball was cleared off the line by Alim Ozturk.
“We were playing into the wind in the first half and if we’d managed to get in at 0-0 I’d have been happy at half-time,” admitted Neilson. “We rode our luck a little bit. Dumbarton hit the crossbar, had a few shots and Neil Alexander had a great save one v one. We managed to get two goals and came out for the second half 2-0 up with the wind behind us. I was always confident of winning at that point. It could’ve been more. We missed a few chances but the pleasing thing is we’re getting into those areas.”
With the wind now behind them, the visitors destroyed Dumbarton. There were times when the game bordered on the farcical as free-kicks and kickouts were blown back from where they came, but that could not hinder Hearts.
They managed 27 goal attempts throughout the 90 minutes, most of them after the interval. Zeefuik scored the third from Walker’s cross, Nicholson stroked the fourth from Callum Paterson’s delivery, and the Dutchman was again teed up by Walker to tap home the fifth. His penalty was more a fine save by the capable Rogers than a poor miss but Zeefuik will be satisfied with his Hearts debut and will feel confident of scoring more between now and the end of his loan in the summer. The only surprise was that in-form James Keatings did not score. He had several chances, most notably a late shot over the bar from about four yards, but it was not his afternoon.
Walker was untouchable in the Hearts side despite Zeefuik’s double. “He’s a fantastic player, fantastic,” enthused Neilson. “I thought him and Sam were the standout players for us. Technically, Jamie has been different class. I know there has been interest from other clubs in the media but there’s been no approach made to us yet. He’s definitely a player who can go to the next level.
“Dumbarton is a difficult place to come down to and play, with the weather conditions and the environment. I didn’t think there was a fault in the team. I felt all the players worked really well, worked hard and it’s a pleasing result.”
Asked if a 5-1 win sends out a message for Friday’s match with Rangers, Neilson replied: “It’s up to whoever is watching to decide. People talk about us having a dip in form but our stats are fantastic. We’re undefeated all season, we’ve drawn a few games and we’re scoring a lot of goals. This gets us back to scoring more goals but, to be honest, if we win 1-0 on Friday night I’ll be more than happy.”
Travelling fans produced the loudest cheer of the day when Chris Kane scored Dumbarton’s consolation on 63 minutes – an excellent finish itself on the angle. With the score now at 5-1, they erupted in a fit of joy as the ball hit the net. There was baiting of former Hibs captain Murray as the scoreline from the 2012 Scottish Cup final was preserved until the final whistle.
Murray took it in good faith, to his credit. “If it’s 5-0, I want the game to finish 5-1,” he said. “I want to keep the goal difference high and I’m delighted for Chris Kane getting another goal for us before he goes [back to parent club St Johnstone]. To be honest, the scoreline doesn’t affect me in any way. I want to win the game by as many goals as possible or lose by the least amount I can. If that’s 5-1 then it’s 5-1. That might be a goal that keeps us in the league in a perverse way.
“We had the wind first half so we knew, at 2-0 and facing the wind in the second half, it was going to be a hard ask for us.
“We did okay. We did have chances but you’ve got to be ruthless against these teams. If you’re not, they’ll come back and bite you.
“That’s a good side, a top quality team in this league. Our guys are disappointed but I’m trying to tell them that we’re together four hours a week – Tuesday and Thursday. These [Hearts] guys can have four hours a day if they want. That’s the reality of it. On our day, we can compete against anyone.
“Over 12 games against Hibs, Hearts and Rangers, it’s impossible for our guys to compete against that quality.”