Jack and Viktor have fought all season for the Hearts goalkeeping slot. Now is Viktor’s chance to show he’s still game.
With previous ever-present Jack Hamilton relegated to the substitutes’ bench, Viktor Noring is enjoying the opportunity to prove himself in the final three games of the Edinburgh club’s season.
Their forenames are more synonymous with comedy thanks to the popular BBC Scotland television sitcom. Both goalkeepers are deadly serious about their profession, though, and desperately want to be first-choice at Tynecastle next year.
Noring stepped in for Hamilton at Ibrox last weekend and continued against St Johnstone on Wednesday night. Barring injury, he will stay in goal for Sunday’s final game of the season at Celtic Park. The 26-year-old Swede waited ten months for his debut after joining Hearts last July so is itching to make the most of these three opportunities.
Having played only a handful of under-20 matches during those ten months, the rustiness he showed at Rangers’ second goal last week isn’t unexpected. Noring can’t afford to dwell on errors as he strives to seize his opportunity and convince Hearts head coach Ian Cathro to stick with him.
“It’s not easy for a goalkeeper when you aren’t playing. You are either in or you’re out,” said Noring, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “You just have to be patient and be ready when you get the chance. This is probably a sign that I’ve been keeping my fitness up, training well and playing well in the under-20 games. Now I’m getting the chance to show myself.
“I haven’t played many under-20 matches. About four, five maybe. It’s not a lot. It’s just to keep your fitness up and give you a feeling for the game.
“I think this is my chance. If I was just going to be on the bench next year, probably I wouldn’t be playing right now. I feel like I just want to play games again and it’s nice to get the chance to do that. I will try to show my best form. It’s tough that we’ve lost two games and I haven’t contributed to us getting a win.
“Every game I play now, it’s just going to feel better and better. It felt pretty good on Wednesday night. My kicking was good and my positioning was good, too. If I’m getting more games, then I’m going to grow into this role even more. For being out for ten months and not playing regular first-team games, it feels pretty good.
“I just have to take everything from these games and hopefully I play on Sunday and show up well again.”
Noring’s chance comes right at the death of a season in which Hamilton enjoyed undisputed No.1 status at Hearts. The giant Swede would have been entitled to question if that elusive debut was ever going to come.
“You have to have somewhere in the back of your mind where you believe you’re going to get a chance, otherwise you will lose motivation if you don’t play,” he said. “It’s about keeping yourself mentally ready in case something happens. Something could happen to Jack at any time so I’ve been ready all year. It’s quite nice to get some games to show that. I really enjoyed playing at Ibrox. It was my first time playing there. I had only been there once before.”
Noring doesn’t shirk his culpability in Rangers’ 2-1 victory. His decision to punch rather than catch James’ Tavernier’s cross 60 seconds after Esmael Goncalves had scored Hearts’ equaliser was costly. The ball spun into the air and he then tried to catch it under pressure from two opponents.
“To be fair, the second goal is such a minor mistake that is blown up into something bigger,” he said. “During the whole game, I felt really good. I hadn’t played for ten months but I felt I made some good saves and showed good distribution.
“At the goal, I need to do better at the first cross. I punched it away but then at the second situation I felt I got a little hit when I tried to catch the ball. Then it dropped down and the Rangers player put it in the net. It was a little bit unfortunate but I need to do better on the first cross.”
Now he faces the other half of Glasgow in an environment he knows well. Noring spent five months on loan at Celtic from the Swedish club Trelleborgs in 2013 but doesn’t feel any special edge facing an old club. “It’s not a bigger motivation for me because we’re playing Celtic. I always want to play at the highest level. Playing at Celtic Park is a good chance for me to show I can handle it at the highest level. I thought I handled it well at Ibrox, I felt calm, so now I’m going to go to an even bigger stage and hopefully show what I’m capable of there.”
Thereafter, it will be down to Cathro and the Hearts coaching staff to decide whether Noring should remain their No.1 goalkeeper. Discussions are likely to take place at the end of the season as part of a restructuring of the first-team squad – and 22-year-old Hamilton should not be discounted simply because he finds himself amongst the substitutes right at this minute.
“They said in the media they wanted to give me an opportunity because I deserve it now. I’ve been training well the whole year, I’ve been patient and tried not to be a bad guy. I’ve made sure I was keeping my spirit high in the team and trying to be a good team-mate. Of course there have been hard times with motivation but you just have to believe you are going to get a game. Now I’ve got it and it feels good.
“I have another year on my contract here. In my mind, I always want to play so my mindset for next season is to try to be No.1. We’ll have to see how everything works out. I’m just focusing on the last game. I think everybody will have a chat with the manager to hear what he likes or what he wants you to improve on. We’ll probably have a chat before the season is over.”