EIGHT yellow cards and one red this season leave Morgaro Gomis feeling slightly reticent. He does not consider himself a dirty player but admits his disciplinary record is worse than ever. What he will not do is compromise his style of play as a combative Hearts midfielder.
Gomis today stressed he won’t change his game despite accumulating more cautions this season than any other in his career. A stoppage-time booking against Hibs on Saturday was his eighth of the campaign. His competitive approach has seen him fall foul of referees in the Scottish Championship, allied to a red card for serious foul play in a Scottish Cup tie against Celtic.
The player’s attitude is simply to carry on as normal, and he has full backing from the Hearts management team. Aged 29, he was signed last summer to provide experience, guile and dynamism in midfield and has delivered on all three counts. Gomis’ influence on a team unbeaten and 13 points clear at the top of the league is undeniable and he has no intention of playing in a less aggressive fashion.
“That’s the way I play. I like to put my foot in and I won’t change that,” he told the Evening News. “I’ll just carry on playing that way and see what happens. The manager hasn’t really said much to me. He’s just told me to keep playing the way I’m playing. I think people are happy with me and I’m happy with myself.
“Saturday was my eighth booking so far this season. I think that’s the most I’ve ever had in my career, so I find it strange. You just have to carry on. I don’t really think about it because I just want to play my own game.”
There is another side to Gomis which should not be overshadowed by his card total. His technical skill level is high, he possesses the vision to deliver a defence-splitting pass and he moves the ball crisply at a high tempo. In that sense, he is a player able to adapt his game to any situation or formation.
Hearts’ recent matches have been more about grinding out results than the free-flowing football witnessed earlier in the season. Gomis has remained a constant, save for a two-game suspension served at the start of last month. He battled and fought during November and December equally as well as he passed and moved during August and September. Preserving Hearts’ unbeaten league status clearly means a lot to the Senegalese.
“It’s not easy to go unbeaten for a full season. I don’t think many teams could do that,” he said. “So far, we’re just looking to play game after game and see what happens. If we do end up going up unbeaten, it would be great for the club. We’ve got a strong team and the squad is really good. A few players are coming back from injury and competition for the starting XI is really tough as everybody wants to play.
“That brings out the best in everyone so I would expect us to finish the season strongly. I know we’ve not been playing so well recently but at least we’re still picking up points. It’s a long season and you can’t play pretty football for the whole season. It’s impossible to do that. We’re doing well so far, still getting points when we aren’t playing well, so that tells you a lot about us. I think there’s more to come.”
Talk of an unbeaten season is a step too far at the moment, but Gomis is entirely comfortable with Hearts’ progress to date.
“People are saying that [Hearts could stay unbeaten] but, as a group, we aren’t really talking about it. Nobody is feeling the pressure at all. We’re happy where we are. That’s where we wanted to be at the start of the season and hopefully we can still be there at the end of the season. We just need to carry on winning games.”
For only the third time in the league under Robbie Neilson, that did not happen on Saturday as Hibs took a point from the New Year Edinburgh derby. Gomis wasn’t entirely happy with the outcome.
“We want to win every game but we know we can’t win every game,” he said. “At this stage, we’re still unbeaten and we know where we want to go. We’re taking a point at home against Hibs, who I thought showed they are a good side.
“The game was going really fast for 90 minutes. Both teams were trying to football and I thought Hibs did really well pressing us. We found it very hard to play the way we wanted to play. I thought we did better in the second half because they couldn’t do that for 90 minutes. They’re a good team and 1-1 was probably a fair result.”
With a smile, Gomis added that he felt he deserved a second-half penalty for a collision with Scott Allan inside the Hibs penalty area. “I thought it was a penalty but the referee said it wasn’t. That’s football. Sometimes you get those decisions give for you and other times they go against you.”
Hearts will need all of Gomis’ influence and that of others over the next few weeks as they embark upon crucial matches in their pursuit of the Championship title. First is a trip to Dumbarton this weekend – the only team other than Hibs to take points off Neilson’s side this season – before a potentially pivotal encounter with Rangers at Ibrox.
“We aren’t looking at Rangers just now. First, we need to take care of Dumbarton,” explained Gomis. “Hopefully we can go there and take the three points and then it’s the big game against Rangers. We want to go there and put on a good show and win that match as well.
“The pitches are not the best at this time of year so I hope after winter they are better and the sun comes out. It will probably be the same at Dumbarton but we’re going to be ready for that.”
Morgaro Gomis gives the impression he is ready for any task. Be it a football match for the purist or a mid-winter bloodbath, Gomis will conform.